The Holy Grail Grail – Damian Marsh

The search for the perfect program. It is a romance that I will take to my grave. Years of reading, watching, doing and asking, yet I am no closer to the strength man’s Holy Grail. What would it look like? What would it entail? Basic compound movements? Surely.


It would probably start with an athletic powerful movement. Something like a power clean I’m sure. Something that expresses strength and power in equal servings.


Next would be a heavy movement for the legs. We need to put some meat on those bones. A nice heavy back squat seems to fit the bill here.



But what about something that focuses on the often neglected posterior chain I hear you ask. For that, it is a photo finish between romanian deadlifts and good mornings. Too close to call, you decide.


And surely the perfect program would involve some heavy upper body lifts? Well why not throw in a bench press and bent over row. That should do the trick.


Still not satisfied? A finisher? What about a 100 rep diminishing set superset challenge? One day could be supine chin ups and dips and the other water filled swiss ball press and rope chin ups. The one reaching the targeted reps in the least sets declared the winner.


Want to throw in some extra work to do at the beginning or end of the workout or in between sets? I guess some remedial reverse hypers, back extensions and russian twists would do.


We could alternate a 3 week accumulation phase of 5 x 5 plateau loaded with a 3 week intensification phase of low reps cycling down to a heavy single. Could this be it? Let’s have a look.


Movement Exercise
Olympic Power Clean
Lower Push Back Squat
Lower Pull Romanian Deadlift
Upper Push Bench Press
Upper Pull Bent Over Row
Challenge Supine Chins/Dips
Or Swiss Ball Press/Rope Chins
Extras/Remedial Reverse Hypers/Back Ext/Russian Twists


Accumulation Phase Intensification Phase
Wk 1-3: 5 x 5 plateau load Wk 4: 5 x 5 step load
Wk 5: 2 x 5, 3 x 3 step load
Wk 6: 5,4,3,2,1


After all these years of reading and learning from guys like Reg Park, Bill Starr, Ian King and Ashley Jones to name but a few, was it right before my eyes? The answer is …. yes….and no.


Too much volume I hear one of you say. Not enough says another. What? You only want to work upper body one day and lower the next. You want some unilateral lifts? Well I guess it was good while it lasted. Is it a great program? Yes. Full of compound movements and heavy lifting. Would it get results? Definitely. But as the saying goes, whatever makes us strong also makes us weak. And as Louie Simmons says “everything works but not everything works forever”. There is a cost benefit ratio of every program. It maybe the perfect program for someone during some phase of their lifting year and career but all good things come to an end. Your training focus, exercise selection and sequence, set/rep protocol etc should continually change and evolve. This is why we have seasons. Even summer would get boring if it lasted all year long.


I may not have discovered the perfect program but what I do know is this. People often don’t train hard enough. A quote by Arthur Jones in Brooks Kubik’s Dinosaur Training says “Watching a man working out properly is almost frightening – and it is frightening to some people”. Every rep, of every set, of every exercise, of every session, of every cycle, of every year, should be performed as if it was your last. The worst program ever written if performed with belief and desire is better than the best program in the world performed by just going through the motions.


And so the search continues. Will I ever find the Holy Grail? Probably not. But the very thought of it inspires me to lift, read and learn everyday.




Hi Damian,
I have been training for some years and working as a PE teacher but only made the decision to get into this game full time recently. I was encouraged by this post because I have not been at it too long but read, watch, ask like crazy and have drawn similar conclusions. This is what I am working on at the moment (with similar rep ranges/sets that you outlined). What would you make of this?


Olympic – Power Clean
Squat – Back Squat
Posterior chain – RDL
UB Press – Bench Press
UB Pull – Bent over row
Abs x 2


Olympic – Power Snatch
Squat – Front Squat
Posterior chain – Good Mornings
UB Press – Push Press
UB Pull – Chins (not weighted yet but working on it)
Abs x 2


Olympic – Hang Clean
Squat – Bulgarian Split Squat
Posterior Chain – Single Leg RDL
UB Press – Incline DB Bench
UB Pull – Upright Row
Abs x 2


I know for a fact that this wont last forever I have been doing this for about 8 weeks now and am still making good progress and am enjoying it so plan to keep going. When the ball stops rolling I was thinking about splitting to an UB/LB/WB split but would really appreciate your advice.






G’day Adam


Program looks pretty solid but it depends on what your goal is and what other training you are doing. I think you answered your own question as you are enjoying the program and still making good progress so stick with it. When you revise your program just send it through and I will have a look at it. Just make sure you let me know what you are trying to achieve.


Keep up the reading






hi, damian could you tell me what you by plateau and step loading




Hi, Plateau loading refers to keeping the same weight for each set at a pre determined set and rep pattern. e.g. 5×5 @ 100kg. Step Loading involves increasing the weight with each set. So if we use 5×5 again you might increase by 5kg each set e.g. 85kg/5, 90kg/5, 95kg/5, 100kg/5, 105kg/5. Cheers Damian




Yiddles mate!
How you getting on with the 3 day/ FB split. I’m thinking of going down that road myself because i’m sick of spending my life in the gym lol.
What are your gains like in strength and size using this program?








Hey Chris,
I stuck with that program for quite a while and it worked a treat for size/str until I started handling decent weight with the LB exercises then I wasn’t recovering fully for the next session. I have since moved on to a 2xUB & 2xLB per wk split similar to a westside template but I subbed some Olympic movements. That’s helped so i’ll stick with that as long as it works but does mean 4x per week which might not suit you. If I was constrained to 3xweek I’d go 1xLB 1xUB 1xWB split. Hope that helps




Thanx yiddles!!


Ive been trying the full body/ 3-day per week program that you’ve posted on here the last couple of weeks, and i have to say its a simple program, but it works a treat!
I agree with what your saying, about the legs not having enough time to recover. I feel as if im constantly in DOMS lol.
Our pre-season friendlies are coming up so i think i’ll try and keep fridays clear from now on.


Thanx again





Damian Marsh

Damian Marsh has extensive experience with professional athletes having been involved with the ACT Brumbies Rugby Union team since 2000, firstly as athletic performance coach and now as the coordinator of the athletic performance program. During this time he has also been involved with the Australian U/21 rugby program in three world cup campaigns and two years with the Austalia A. Academically he achieved first class honours in his human movement degree and is completing a PhD looking at speed and power constructs in Rugby.

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