The Beginner’s ATG Lifting Program

13 min readMay 27, 2024


Last month I shared a project on a starting bodyweight regimen. It’s intended for young athletes but many families have reached out and said they’re enjoying the workout together.

We will refer to that as the “CSU Regimen.” Common Sense University is the humorous but actual name of the small school my wife and I are building.

I keep that regimen — plus related articles — up-to-date and always free at

It’s also on the ATG app, along with our dozens of other programs.

My business goal is to provide a service that is worth the money for those who can afford it.

$50/month, no long-term contract, with your questions and form videos reviewed and answered in under 24 hours, 7 days a week, by some of the most experienced ATG coaches in the world — with full and instant access to ALL programs.

It’s a lot of work for the price and we appreciate those who can afford to support it.

That support is what allows me to otherwise give away all the data I know.

So this program I’m teaching you today is on the ATG app but right here for free, too.

The purpose of today’s article is explaining the first ATG lifting program I would have given to a younger version of myself, after first mastering the CSU regimen.

And much like the CSU regimen, the beginner ATG lifting regimen happens to be a great longevity program, too.

With ATG training, youth and longevity have unintentionally wound up as parallels to one another.

Even now I would be very happy with this program for my own body.

But I’m already working on breaking down my full personal program for you. It should be done next week in article form. It’s on the app in Ben’s Zone > Ben’s Current Program.

We’ve made a recent coding breakthrough which allows you to calculate your weight targets for the entire week, based on your Monday performance.

It’s my favorite program ever. And it’ll be my longest article ever. These 3 programs will form a simple book. You’re reading that book in article form, in real time. My books don’t hold any secrets either, but some people enjoy having a lot of this data in one physical place.

So if you first read the CSU regimen, then this beginner ATG lifting regimen, and finally my current regimen — I think things will click on a deep level.

The CSU regimen is a flow of 10 bodyweight exercises meant to be done at least once a week.

This beginner lifting program then breaks up into two different sessions, 8 steps each, using bodyweight, dumbbells and basic equipment, meant to be done at least once a week each.

I will explain it all, then list it out at the end…

Step 1 is BACKWARD.

This doesn’t have to take long.

2 minutes if you have a resisted treadmill.

100 yards if you have a sled.

And 200 yards if you don’t have any form of resistance.

You can even progress to running backward for those 200 yards.

The goal is to challenge yourself — backward.

Backward motion stresses the muscle and internal tissues differently than forward alone.

In 13 years of doing it and coaching it, I feel like backward is one of the natural wonders of therapy for the knees, feet, and everything in between.

That being said, the program will still work great even without Step 1.

But it’s worthy enough to mention and encourage.

Steps 2 & 3 of each workout are for the lower legs.

Let’s see how that’s done in the CSU regimen, starting with the calf:

The main difference in the beginner ATG lifting regimen is separately training the calves with straight leg AND bent knee.

You have an upper, more visible calf muscle, and a lower, deeper calf muscle.

Straight leg tends to target the upper calf.

Bent leg tends to target the lower, deeper calf.

In this regimen, we will use a single leg standing calf raise for the straight leg version. You can even add load with a dumbbell — just be sure your only balance is from your knuckles so that you’re not cheating with assistance from the hands.

On that same note: using the hands for assistance is TOTALLY FINE. Just don’t add load unless you can honestly do it without assistance.

Keep in mind that in ATG, ANY REGRESSION IS VALID.

“Progress” means to go forward.

“Regress” means to go back.

I want you to exercise only at the level that FEELS GOOD for you.

It’s important to me that you know regressions and progressions for any step of any program I make.

In workout 2, step 2 is a bent knee calf raise.

If you go to a gym, they probably have a seated calf machine.

If you don’t have a seated calf machine, you can use a dumbbell or kettlebell on your thigh.

And if you don’t have heavy enough weight to challenge yourself, you can bend your knees to a comfortable level and perform a “KOT” (Knees Over Toes) calf raise with your body as the weight. Two legs = easier. One leg = harder.

While you rest your calves, you’ll work on the opposite of a calf raise: the tibialis raise.

Reminder: “tibialis” means “of the tibia” — and your tibia is your shinbone. So, it’s the main muscle on the other side of your calf muscles. In fact, the full name for this muscle is “anterior tibialis” — and anterior means “front.”

In the CSU regimen, we used a wall. This is still valid.

The only difference now is the awareness of bars for measurable loading of this quality.

Not only has this been fun for me to progress… it’s been very useful for people who lack the strength to get much range of motion with the wall version, since you can regress to any amount of weight!

You’ll then go back through one more set for your calves, and one more for your tibialis.

Going back and forth is called a “superset.”

Steps 4 & 5 will be another superset, moving higher up into the legs.

In workout 1, step 4 will be a slant squat.

In workout 2, step 4 will be an ATG Split Squat.

In the CSU regimen we did these exercises with bodyweight only.

The main difference when adding WEIGHT is greater patience.

Your first set should be bodyweight only.

If that’s easy and pain-free, you could hold a light dumbbell for set 2.

If that’s easy and pain-free, you could hold a heavier dumbbell for set 3, and so on.

And even at my present level…


I start at bodyweight and gradually work up.

For example, I currently use 8 sets of 8 reps on my squats, with each set gradually increasing until the 8th is the heaviest.

With this style you never graduate out of the first set being bodyweight-only, and only gradually increase the load each set afterward.

In workout 2 we will use the ATG Split Squat.

And once again, you’re intentionally starting at easier levels and gradually working to more challenging ones.

The ATG Split Squat becomes more personal since you have SEPARATE measures of strength and flexibility.

Higher front foot = easier flexibility.

And separately you have the load, which you can even regress to ASSISTED.

People have varying levels of strength and flexibility so the progression is not the same for everyone.

If there was one magic recipe, I would tell you.

But I will add this:

I’ve been doing ATG Split Squats for over 10 years and I’m convinced it’s the best long-term investment I’ve ever put into my body.

So… enjoy the process of learning your body, and take your time!

While you rest your legs from Step 4, Step 5 works your backside.

In the CSU regimen we used the Nordic. This remains in Workout 1.

And in Workout 2 we will use a back extension.

Notice how the Nordic uses the knee as the hinge, and the back extension uses the hip as a hinge.

A sensible balance of these two abilities has been a go-to formula for me over the past 10 years.

The Nordic can be done with just a pad for the knees and a partner to hold the heels down.

And at a gym, you probably have a hamstring curl machine:

But hamstring curl machines aren’t as practical to have at home, and cost way more than Nordic benches, so I love Nordic benches for home gyms.

For struggling athletes, I found faster progress by elevating a Nordic bench on top of wood blocks in order to make the leverage easier.

This gave me the idea of a Nordic bench that adjusts by angle, allowing a variety of users to work at their own levels.

We also make a back extension that arrives pre-assembled and folds out, ideal for home use.

These are for sale on our equipment site, along with just about any other equipment in this article.

Gyms usually have a back extension, too, but if you don’t have a back extension yet, I would simply use the elephant walk from the CSU regimen for this step.

Steps 6, 7 and 8 are then done in rotation to finish the workout.

In workout 1, step 6 is the L-sit or hanging knee raise.

In the CSU regimen we used the L-sit, and that is still a valid choice.

But if you have access to a pull-up bar and hanging ab straps, I’d like you to work on this option.

The goal I coach toward is the ability to bring your knees all the way up to the back of your arms, but you don’t have to raise all the way up. Therefore, it works well for a broad range of levels.

In workout 2, step 6 is for your QL muscles which are directly to the SIDES of your lower spine.

QL is short for quadratus lumborum.

“Quad” = “four” due to the four-sided shape of the muscle.

And “lumborum” means “of the lumbar spine.” Your lumbar spine is your lower spine.

For this step I usually use a back extension, but I also have a go-to that’s effective when you don’t have one.

Seated against a wall is easiest to start. The higher your hands, the greater the leverage and therefore the greater the load.

As you get stronger and more flexible you might even enjoy the freedom of not using the wall.

And you can even add weight to this!

Due to the leverage, a mere 5 pounds can be a lot of load on the QLs.

With a back extension, bodyweight alone for high reps is a great foundation. The angle makes it quite challenging.

Training the back extension normally (as in step 5) AND for the QLs is one of the best training investments I’ve made for my lower back. I’ve been doing this for about 8 years and my back feels incomparable to before.

I know of no magical fix for the lower back other than:


Your lower back is at the center of your body, so any problems below it, above it or to the sides can result in “mysterious” problems.

Millions of people suffer from lower back problems. The lower back is widely regarded as the most mysterious of exercise-related problems.

I believe it will remain mysterious to anyone who looks for only “one” secret cause.

Steps 7 and 8 are then for the upper body.

In the CSU regimen, we used push-up and pull-up progressions.

These remain valid in this program.

But ideally we would balance out those motions.

Instead of the push-up, we would use an ATG-style incline dumbbell press in workout 1 and an ATG-style overhead dumbbell press in workout 2.

Notice how I angle the dumbbells so my chest and shoulders don’t stop them short. This allows for my full range of motion.

ATG-style Incline Dumbbell Press

ATG-style Overhead Dumbbell Press

For the pulling, we would keep the pull-up progression in workout 1 and use a row progression in workout 2.

The goal for the row is feet-elevated so that your body is parallel to the floor. However, you can regress the exercise by having your feet on the ground and raising the bar.

You can also do rows with dumbbells, cable or machine.

However you feel good doing a row, I’m a fan!

My best overall shoulder health advice is simply to balance pressing and pulling, through full ranges of motion, and at a variety of angles.

Working toward 12 reps with your bodyweight is a great beginner strategy for the pull-ups and rows, and when you can dumbbell press 12 reps at a given weight with great form, move to the next size up.


(And please be sure to read the note on PROGRESS after it!)

Workout 1

1st: Backward: 2 minutes resisted treadmill, 100 yards sled, or 200 yards unresisted

2A. Single-Leg Standing Calf Raise 2 sets of up to 15 reps per side

2B. Tibialis Raise 2 sets of up to 20 reps with bar, or at least 20 reps with wall

3A. Slant Squat: 4 sets of up to 20 reps

3B. Nordic: 4 sets of 5 reps, or Ham Curl 4 sets of up to 12 reps

4A. Hanging Knee Raise: 2 sets at least 15 reps

4B. ATG-style Incline Dumbbell Press: 2 sets of up to 15 reps

4C. Pull-up: 2 sets of up to 12 reps

Workout 2

1st: Backward: 2 minutes resisted treadmill, 100 yards sled, or 200 yards unresisted

2A. Seated Calf Raise 2 sets of up to 20 reps with machine, at least 20 reps with DB/KB, or 20 reps with wall

2B. Tibialis Raise 2 sets of up to 20 reps with bar, or at least 20 reps with wall

3A. ATG Split Squat: 4 sets of up to 12 reps per side

3B. Back Extension: 4 sets of up to 12 reps

4A. QL: 2 sets of at least 10 reps per side

4B. ATG-style Overhead Dumbbell Press: 2 sets of up to 12 reps

4C. Row: 2 sets of up to 12 reps


Let’s say you press 25-pound dumbbells overhead for 12 reps this week.

Next week you’d like to do the 30s, right?

Well, if you continued in this way, going to the next dumbbell size each week, within 1 year you would be…


You’d be overhead pressing almost 300 pounds in each hand, something no one is even close to doing.

ANY time you move to the next weight increment, or even add 1 more rep, pain-free, with great form, is a HUGE WIN.

And on the weeks you don’t?


All I care about is that you ENJOY putting in some EFFORT.

If your weights don’t go up next week, or the week after, or the week after that… it’s still a WIN.

Following a balanced strength routine is one of the best investments you can put in your body.

The real magic is when you figure out how to ENJOY strength training for the rest of your life.

If you FOCUS, work at a level that feels good for YOU, and can FEEL your muscles being challenged to some extent, THIS IS A WIN.

I hope this routine is helpful for you or someone you know.

As mentioned earlier, I’m about halfway done with next week’s article, which is my longest one yet, detailing the culmination of everything I’ve learned so far.

Of course not everyone has to enjoy the same style of exercise, but for long-term ATGers, you can look forward to one of the biggest ATG breakthroughs yet. If you’re on the app, you can start checking it out in Ben’s Zone > Ben’s Current Program — but it’ll make better sense when you read next week’s article.

I’m grateful for you every day. I never expected such support. I hope to show you my appreciation more and more as we go.

Yours in Solutions,





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