ATG: Structural Balance #1

13 min readJun 3, 2024


The bulk of my work is data that almost anyone can apply, with or without weights.

Last month I covered a bodyweight regimen.

And last week I covered a beginner lifting routine which uses dumbbells.

The sequence was intentional to set up THIS PROGRAM, which adds use of a barbell.

Reading all 3 articles would give useful data for life, with context for just about any situation. In fact, these three programs are my next book. My books are picture-heavy and not too wordy, so by the end of these 3 articles you’ve just about read the book version!

As you’ve seen from the previous two articles: I don’t believe you need to use a barbell, but it’s still a great way to challenge yourself and measure strength.

Millions of people enjoy bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting.

So this article could be considered my personal approach to the barbell.

Over the last 10 years, ATG has amassed countless reports of people achieving less pain and more ability with barbell squats, barbell deadlifts and barbell presses, so I think we’re at a point where my take on barbell training is of sufficient value to warrant an article and section of a book.

The knees, back and shoulders each break down into their own subjects, but as a general recap in relation to barbell lifting:

  1. I have seen the ATG Split Squat progression consistently help people to less pain with barbell squats, and the ATG Split Squat scales to levels grandparents are consistently winning with. The ATG Split Squat allows you to gently start working on your squat mobility and strength, one side at a time, with years of progress attainable for most people.

2. I have seen the ATG-style seated goodmorning progression consistently help people to less pain with barbell deadlifts. It also scales to virtually any level. It allows you to work on your strength and mobility while strengthening your lower back in an ultra-controlled manner.

3. I have seen the following consistently help people improve pain-free barbell pressing: press and pull through full ranges of motion from a variety of angles.

Those 3 summaries are not an end-all/be-all for the knees, back and shoulders, but they have worked too well not to mention BEFORE getting into the barbell work.

Also, in the app (Ben’s Zone > Ben’s Current Program) I offer a more relaxed version of this program which you can toggle to. That version does NOT use a barbell and does NOT have specific targets. Life has a lot of factors and sometimes you may want to train without a bar and without expectations. You could use the dumbbell version for a workout, a week, or a lifetime.

I believe I could dunk till I’m 50 with my personal dumbbell program.

But here’s why I’ve added the barbell version…


I always work for strong knees and mobility.

Nothing is changing there.

But I’d also like a bit more muscle mass and strength.

And I want to see if I can jump even higher than ever.

As someone who reached age 20 having never been able to dunk but now enjoys dunking easily, I think a better measure of my ATG journey would be dunking at age 50 than a few more vertical inches right now.

Being able to dunk when my kids are grown up would be more valuable to me than any material possession on this beautiful earth.

So I’m not looking for short-term gain at the expense of long-term.

But… I still itch for more upper body muscle AND more rocket-like legs RIGHT NOW.

So how do I blend all these goals?


My knees over toes journey began with Charles Poliquin, who trained arguably the most Olympic medalists ever — and across a wide range of sports!

I took whatever clues I could from him and got busy trying to make it a scalable and accessible system for virtually anyone.

I think he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished.

But there’s a powerful part of his work which I have not yet figured out how to make accessible, and that’s the purpose of this article!

Poliquin coined the term “Structural Balance” to indicate how much you should be able to lift RELATIVE TO YOUR OTHER LIFTS.

For the upper body, he left behind a detailed public work on this subject. You can click here for that article, which he published 25 years ago.

As my obsessions were knees, mobility and athleticism, I did my own fair share of Structural Balance testing with hundreds of athletes, ranging from the least naturally-athletic to millionaire pros.

From the moment we started creating our own app, I knew this would be realistic to apply in our future.

But to be clear, this is my interpretation of Poliquin’s work. Poliquin cites the work of many other amazing coaching sources who helped form his conclusions, and he always advises studying from the source.

To say you’ve studied Poliquin’s Structural Balance work, you’d have to find resources from him directly.

Poliquin’s work on the upper body is the only public resource I can find from Poliquin himself, hence the reason I included the link in this article.

I studied with Poliquin in person.

Fernando Lopez, who runs our Physique section, was with Poliquin in person at his last seminar before Charles passed on.

And one of our ATG For Coaches staff, Ben Clarfield, worked extensively with Poliquin, saving loads of notes in the process.

To form my conclusions I’m using my own recollection, Ben C’s notes, and thousands of hours coaching athletes.

The fact I changed my own body from relatively fragile and embarrassingly unathletic to freakishly athletic and resilient compared to the norm — all after being a fully grown adult — gives me unshakable confidence in the concept of Structural Balance.

Now I merely wish to make it user-friendly and fun to apply!

As with the knees, I’m looking to make accessible basics that work well for just about anyone — and in this case: anyone who lifts a barbell.


This is the mother lift upon which the rest of my week’s training is calculated.

Deep squat. Not heels flat. Not full slant. But the heels elevated. And feet no more than hip-width apart. Stand as tall as you can. That’s about how far apart your feet should be. This allows a great strength workout while still ensuring your knee development is emphasized.

Use a total of 8 sets of 8 reps, starting with just your own bodyweight, then the bar, gradually increasing the load each set until you reach a challenging set with GREAT FORM.

This is a very patient way to measure your strength, compared to testing your 1-rep maximum.

So it’s more than a “test” — it’s a valuable workout.

If you try it, please send in your heavier set through the app so we can make sure your form is great.

If so, you would attempt to increase the weight by 2% next week.

And I know: 2% doesn’t seem like much.

But improving 2% each week, consistently, is virtually impossible.

So any week you make a 2% improvement, that’s actually a big win!

And this program is about the long-term.


Use 100% of your squat weight.

For example, if your squat weight was 200 pounds, you would now use 200 pounds.

In the program, I have it as:

60% x 12 reps

80% x 10 reps

And on the 3rd set, 100% x at least 8 reps with GREAT FORM.

The keynotes of “great form” on an ATG-style RDL are:

  1. Lower back doesn’t round.
  2. Knees behind toes
  3. Lower back at least to parallel

This is a combination of strength and flexibility.

With the deep squat plus this deadlift, you have a SIMPLE yet effective roadmap to help make freakish athleticism and resilience.

Ideally, you would complete at least 8 reps with GREAT form.

But if not, no worries!

This is a personal program meant to build your body in common-sense ratios.

You do NOT have to stop squatting just because your RDL is stiff and/or weak.

But long-term I think it’s a good idea to slow down and let your RDL catch up until it’s easy to handle your squat weight per the form goals above.

At that point, I would add 2% to the squat.


Now we’ve “earned” our way to the upper body, with your primary goal being 50% of the squat weight for at least 8 overhead presses with great form.

The bench press is the most classic test of upper body strength.

It’s what Poliquin used in his Structural Balance article.

But Poliquin also said:

“Overhead pressing proficiency is the lost element in most bodybuilding and strength training programs. Far too much time and effort is instead spent on training the bench press, particularly for athletes… Most shoulder pain in the weight trainee can, without a doubt, be traced to lack of overhead pressing work.”

He also published far more content on the shoulders than just overhead pressing, but the point is: for the goals of ATG, overhead pressing is a great measure and focus.

Also: I start young athletes on full range of motion push-ups, a similar pathway to bench press. Therefore, I prioritize overhead pressing once any form of weight training begins. In young athletes, I would start with a dumbbell shoulder press, and even in this barbell program, I use dumbbell shoulder pressing later in the week.

The main form I’m looking for here is simply good control through your full, comfortable range of motion.

As always, never work through pain. As summarized at the start of this article, in ATG we have Knee Ability, Back Ability, AND Shoulder Ability systems which consistently help people enjoy squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses, without pain.

If you don’t achieve the 50% for at least 8 reps with great form, I would still allow you to increase your squat weight next week.

For example, Olympic high jumpers are notorious for extra-small upper bodies. Sprinters look JACKED by comparison.

Neither physique is “wrong.”

For most goals and sports, the 100–100–50 on these full range of motion squats, RDLs and overhead presses provides a workable framework.

But these aren’t absolutes.

ATG structural balance is meant to serve YOU.

Not the other way around.

Those are the “big 3” barbell lifts in this program, but there are some more targets that round out a surprisingly powerful system that’s user-friendly.


In the program, this exercise is done while you rest between each set of overhead presses.

20% x up to 12 strict reps per set is the goal.

If you can do that, I don’t think your calf is “weak” relative to your squat.

The key form point is that the off-hand doesn’t cheat by assisting!

While it may seem like a small exercise, I think it’s important.

What % of people who lift weights do you think have kept their lower legs up to par with everything above?


Here’s the exact workout I do on Monday:

1A. Backward Treadmill 2 x 100 steps

1B. Forward Treadmill 2 x 50 steps

If using a sled, do 100 yards each forward and backward (yards = the same, but backward steps are smaller than forward ones, so if counting steps I like twice as many backward).

Then a little optional mobility while cooling down from the resisted treadmill.

Then the lifting begins…

2. Close-stance heels-elevated back squat 8 x 8, starting bodyweight-only and gradually working up to a challenging set of 8 reps with great form

3. Full-stretch RDL

60% x 12

80% x 10

100% x at least 8

4A. Full-Range Overhead Press

30% x 12

40% x 10

50% x at least 8

4B. Single-Leg Standing Calf Raise 20% x up to 12 reps (3 sets)

Then I train again on Wednesday and Friday, exploring further percentages and goals.

Some numbers aren’t a sure thing, for example:

Seated calf machines vary in internal resistance, but on many machines about 50% of your squat weight works well, for up to 12 reps per set.

Other numbers are easier to measure. For example, for the tibialis, 15% x up to 20 reps works well.

Other targets aren’t even numbers at all.

If your squat goes up a lot, your legs may get heavier to pick up!

At least 20 knees to triceps Garhammer Raises works great as a baseline for picking up those legs.

And if your squat, RDL, and overhead press go up a lot, then your body ABOVE your knee might get heavier!

The Nordic is not PRECISELY measurable but it’s close enough to work well! Chasing “the perfect rep” 5 times is a goal you could work on the rest of your life with great results! In fact, I’d rather see someone chase stricter form with bodyweight than add weight to Nordics.

Many hamstring curl machines also work well at 50% of squat weight.

I love Nordic and hamstring curl machines, but I was never a “personal” trainer.

At the original ATG I had open gym hours and trained groups and teams.

Getting 20+ athletes using hamstring curl machines wasn’t in the cards for me in terms of budget or user-friendliness.

For each day’s workouts I had to reconfigure the gym to make best use of my space.

I found that with a fleet of Nordic benches — which I could easily wheel around — plus boxes to elevate the front ends, I could scale Nordics to just about anyone’s level.

I was able to get my entire football team significant strength increase behind the knee. And here’s why that made me really passionate about Nordics…

Most ACL tears happen in TEAM SPORTS.

But in team sports facilities, strength behind the knee gets the LEAST attention of any broad strength training population.

Go to a gym and they have ham curl machines.

But I’ve never seen a high school strength program with hamstring curls, because they’re so expensive and not portable, making them unrealistic — even if the awareness and desire to strengthen behind the knee is present.

So the people who need strength behind the knee most are the ones who most often have it skipped.

The fact that Nordics have helped me become more athletic in my 30s than I ever dreamed possible only adds to my passion!

But personally I love hamstring curls just as much!

They’re just not as accessible from home gyms and for the athletes who need it most.

Last note: The first creator of a Nordic bench was Bert Sorin of Sorinex exercise equipment. Bert has been a true friend to ATG. My contribution was really just in realizing they could scale by lifting up the front end.

Now they’re one of my mom’s favorite exercises, which makes a lot of sense since she’s still a young athlete at heart!

To finish out some easy-to-remember targets, I think 12 full pull-ups is a great finishing touch! If your squat, deadlift, and overhead press go up… just make sure you can still easily pick that body up!

Hopefully by this point you can see that structural balance makes my life SIMPLER, not more complex.

So yes, having all the numbers calculated automatically in the app is a dream come true for me, but as you’ve seen in this article I have no secrets and I’m trying to use the simplest basic targets possible.

The goal has always been that my actual service is WORTH $50/month for those who can afford it, without any hidden knowledge behind a paywall.

Special thanks to Caleb, one of our original ATG online members, and Jacob, his brother, who work full-time coding our site and app.

And special thanks to the customer service and coaching team, who work together to answer your questions and coach your form videos in less than 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Keep me posted if you give this program a whirl!

I’ll be back in touch next week with my personal dumbbell program, which I mentioned earlier in this article, and which I suggest as a back-up if you want to train very closely to this but without barbell lifting.

Yours in Solutions,





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