Training Programmes: Intermediates

I wrote this for an FAQ on a forum but thought it would be useful here. Other members of that forum did provide feedback and suggestion on my draft so I can’t take sole credit. I will be posting it as a series of bite sized chunks. 


If your goal is strength then the most common programmes to move onto after you finish with ICF, SS or SL are the Texas Method , Madcow, Candito’s 6 week and 5/3/1.

By now you have been lifting a few months and will have learnt a lot so will be better placed to work out for yourself which is right for you. The articles linked to(for Candito’s looks at the relevant PDF and spreadsheet) will give you a good grasp on each programme but if you are really can’t decide then again just pick one. You can always change your mind later but are both good and the key thing is to be doing a good programme consistently and to stick with it for at least a few months.

Training Programmes: Time to Move on?

I wrote this for an FAQ on a forum but thought it would be useful here. Other members of that forum did provide feedback and suggestion on my draft so I can’t take sole credit. I will be posting it as a series of bite sized chunks.

When it is time to switch to an intermediate programme?

You make quicker progress on a beginner programme so you want to stick to it for as long as you can. If you feel like you are struggling then first consider if you are eating enough? Right now you should be gaining muscle, which unless you were overweight to start with, means the scales should be going up. If they aren’t then you need to go read the diet sections of this FAQ. Second, you need to consider sleep. Sleep is when most of your recovery happens, recovery is the process through which your muscles get bigger and stronger, so if you aren’t sleeping enough then you will struggle. Third, consider if you really are still doing the programme. Sometimes people slowly drift off doing the programme as it is written so don’t notice they have done it which goes back to the problem of you not knowing enough to be tweaking the routine. Also, make sure you have been deloading as the programme recommends.

If you have those three things in check then you can start considering when you are done with your beginner programme. Unfortunately there’s no clear cut answer to this but one thing that will make it easier is if you have a written log of your training to look back on, in a note book and/or online. It means you can go back and look at your progress more objectively than say going by how you feel it’s going this week. Decide to switch when you have reached a point where progress has slowed significantly and deloading no longer seems enough. It’s not a clear but thing but you’ll likely know it when you get there, try to push through for a bit but it doesn’t really work.

The next post in the series will suggest what you can to move on to. If you want to receive a notification when it is posted check out the follow options in the widget tab.

Being Small and Weak

I’m 5ft5 and was in the region of 60kg/130lbs when I first set foot in a gym and I sure as hell felt tiny. It can make the thought of going to the gym pretty intimidating. This is far from a trans-specifc problem and just knowing that helped me. However, I do think trans guys tend to feel this a bit more acutely than cis guys.

If you feel like that, you basically need to suck it up and give it a go. I don’t mean to be harsh but that really is all there is for it.

Nobody will be judging you. Well, ok, some people are dickheads so they might but they are a minority and it’s their problem, not your’s.

We were all noobs once upon a time and the vast majority of lifters are glad to see more people getting into it. But mostly, nobody will find you very interesting so are very unlikely to notice what you are doing at all So you’re probably building it up to be worse than it will be.

It can help to have a plan and know what to expect, for example, know you are going to go in, find a rack and use it to squat 40kg 5×5. You may well feel more self conscious if you haven’t already decided what to do and end up standing around thinking- but even then nobody will actually care what you are doing.

And FWIW some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are huge, strong guys who can be quite intimidating to watch lift.

Or do you think you should train at home to get a ‘base’ first so you aren’t the smallest and weakest?

You might well be the smallest and weakest but you won’t be for long and there will be other beginners about. And that guy benching 100kg- it’s probably not that long ago he was struggling with 50kg and because your goals forever increase, he probably doesn’t think of himself as especially strong.

And anyway, this is flawed logic, it’s harder to make good gains at home because of the lack of equipment so you could just be setting yourself up to fail. Plus postponing going to the gym probably isn’t going to make it any easier the first time, it goes back to you needing to just suck it up and give it a go because it’s not bad at all.

There’s more posts to come on the barriers trans guys face to going to the gym. Check out the follow options in the sidebar if you want notifications when I get them up.

Training Programmes: Beginners

I wrote this for an FAQ on a forum but thought it would be useful here. Other members of that forum did provide feedback and suggestion on my draft so I can’t take sole credit. I will be posting it as a series of bite sized chunks.

Picking the right routine

You will noticed that all these routines centre on compound exercises (those that involve more than one joint moving) and that’s because they are more result for your effort. In terms of gaining muscle, other exercises are useful in focusing on specific muscles but as some pretty or entirely new you need to focus on every muscle so compounds make a lot more sense. In terms of strength, you can exert, and hence train, much more strength across multi-joint movements so again make a lot more sense.

First you need to know if you are a beginner or intermediate. If you have never/barely lifted a free weight before you are a beginner. If you aren’t sure then you are a beginner. The intermediate routines are listed so you have something to come back to look at later after you are getting to be done with a beginner routine.


The three most tried and tested are Icecream Fitness 5×5, Starting Strength and Stronglift. You need to pick one and stick to it, this matters much, much more than which one you pick. You also need to do it as written- if you don’t know enough to write your own then you don’t know enough to be tweaking one either.

One common problem with new lifters is they don’t start with a light enough weight. Each of the programmes give slightly different advice on exactly how much you could start with but the common theme is not a weight you find particularly challenging. Normally being challenged is fundamental to progress but as a noob you are an exception because you need technique practice more and lighter weights makes this easier. If in doubt always begin by erring on the side of lighter.

Icecream Fitness 5×5 (ICF)

This routine will take you more time than the others, this is because it has more assistance exercises. Assistance exercises are those that aren’t central to your progress towards your given goal but will help you get there. ICF has these because it focused more on looks more than the other two. You’ll gain muscle (diet depending) and get stronger with any of the 3 but ICF helps you develop a more balanced physique. So the question is do you care enough about anaesthetics to spend more time in the gym? If the answer is no then you want to do Starting Strength or Strong Lifts.

Starting Strength (SS) vs Strong Lifts (SL)

If you spend a bit of time googling then you’ll have no trouble finding people swear one is better than the other. The reality is they are so similar it’s a fairly trivial debate and you shouldn’t worry about it.

The main difference is whether you do a power clean (SS) or a row (SL). If you think you might want to move into weightlifting (as in the Olympic sport) eventually then you may well want to learn to power clean now or you might just like the look of it. However power cleans are significantly more complicated to learn to do well, hence make progress on, than a row. If you aren’t that bothered about learning to power clean or aren’t willing to be a bit patient with it then go with a row/SL.

If you’d like notifications when the rest of this series are posted then check out the follow options in the widget tab.

Going to the Gym: Why You Should

Well, in short, you need the equipment. To appreciate that you need to know a bit about what a strength training programme looks like. If you don’t then go check out my posts on that.

But what about training with just body weight?

Push ups: a classic bodyweight exercise but not a great strength builder

You can do a fairly decent upper body routine with just body weight exercise though the main problem is training legs. If your legs are weak then you will never be strong as a whole. If your legs are twig shaped and your upper body gets decent then you’ll look silly in shorts. Plus, even for upper body it is much simpler to use weights and you can still have bodyweight exercise within your lifting routine.

Or do you plan to buy equipment for a home gym?

This is a valid option so long as you are really willing/able to make the required investment. To make good progress you should be doing one of the routines I’ve mentioned previously or something rather similar.

For them you will at least need:

    • Squat rack, preferably with safety bars, that goes low enough to bench from (£130)
    • Bench (£60)
    • 20kg bar (£90)
    • 100-120kg in weights (£200)

You may also want:

  • Rubber floor matting- to protect it from weights being dropped on it
  • Dumbbell handle- then you just need one/two handles that you load the needed weight onto instead of a whole set
  • Pull up bar- the sort that you hang from the door is usually most practical

And you’ll be surprised how quickly you need more weight. In the brackets is a rough idea of what it would cost new (in the UK, in case the £ didn’t give that way :p) but you can save money if you get lucky on gumtree/ebay. The new costs are for the cheap end of the market, personally if I were to be setting up a home gym I’d spend a bit more to have it work and last well.

You’ll notice I didn’t say go to Argos and get a 50kg weights set. You can’t bench or squat properly with no other equipment and 50kg is nowhere near enough to be challenging for long enough to make any noticeable progress. Trust me I did it. I lifted 50kg in my room for months and the progress I made was nothing compared to when I finally went to the gym.

There’s more posts to come on the barriers trans guys face to going to the gym. Check out the follow options in the widget tab (those buttons on the top right) if you want notifications when I get them up.

Drugs Testing & T

In most sports, at a recreational level, you won’t face drug testing but in strength sports- well powerlifting and weightlifting but not strongman- you can find it happening at any level. It’s been a real barrier to me. I was really concerned that being trans and being on T, for any reason, could be a big can of worms and that put me off competing for a long time. Never mind the fact I wasn’t sure if I would positive on a drug test at all. If I did test positive I’d get a life time ban so it didn’t seem worth the risk.

After a fair bit of digging I found a dependable source that actually talks about testing in sports. It says:

Once the steroid has been metabolised in the nucleus, it is taken from the cell and degraded in the liver. From here it is excreted in the bile or the urine. The actual excretion products vary from one androgen to another and it is these products that are detected in sports drug testing

So, if you take T they will be able to detect it in a urine test. If your levels are in ‘normal male range’ then it wouldn’t be detected on a blood test but any sports testing I’ve ever heard of is urine. The good news is that doesn’t bar you from competing as you can apply for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

The main authority on drugs in sports is World Anti-Doping Agency and they have guidance on trans guys who are on testosterone competing in sport. In reading it you need to consider the criteria for TUE:

  • The athlete would experience significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance or method

  • The therapeutic use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance, and

  • There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise prohibited substance or method.

So what the document is addressing is how this criteria would apply to trans guys. There is some vagueness in the document and I think this is because WADA don’t see it as their place to say whether or not a particular sports body should allow trans people to compete. But, in my opinion, what WADA are saying is being on T is not a reason to ban trans guys from competing and if you allow trans guys to compete then they should be granted TUE for T.

There is a but, your T levels will likely to be within ‘normal male range’ and you will typically need a doctor signing off on your TUE application. Though I wouldn’t expect that to be a problem for most.

Training Without T and Starting T

This post is going to be about training before you start T/never being on T and then when you first start T. I know that there can be many complication, like changing room and binding, so posts on those sorts of things are upcoming. If you want a notification of when those posts are online, check out the follow options in the sidebar.

I am only covering not being on T and when you just start T because otherwise I think trans guys are in the same boat as cis guys. So once you’ve been on T a bit all the advice out there for men applies to you too.

Pre/No T

If you are not on T then obviously your ability to build muscle is going to be lesser than that of someone with higher T levels. That said you can still get bigger and stronger so it’s not in itself a reason for you not to start lifting.  Exercise is good for you mentally as well as physically and you may well find you like your body a bit more as you start to gain strength and size.

Posts on training programmes are on their way so read those but I would suggest some tweaks to them. These programmes (unfortunately) assume the person doing them has T levels higher than your’s. But it’s nothing major that needs changed. The difference is in how quickly you can progress, particularly in your upper body.

For overhead press start with 10kg/20lbs, your gym should have smaller fixed weight bars or a smaller set of plastic weights that you can use. This means you’ll need to lift the bar off the floor instead of out of a rack but it’s light enough that you will be able to do that fine. Switch to an empty bar when you get to 20kg/40lbs.

a plastic weight set that will allow you to start lighter than 20kg/40lbs

For bench, start with an empty bar then add half the weight the programme recommends.

For everything else do it as recommended by the programme but once you’ve had to deload a few times consider halving it too.

Starting T

Firstly, if you’re just starting T then congratulations!

You probably know that you will now be able to build strength much quicker. As such, no matter how long you have been training already, I recommend you switch back to a beginner’s programme. You might not run it for as long as genuine beginners would, but the increase in your potential is enough that you will be able to make at least some linear progress again.You would make the same progress over a longer period of time on an intermediate programme but why not make it ASAP? That’s what switching back to a beginner’s programme will allow you to do.

How much muscle you can gain has increased along with your ability to get stronger. In the run up to starting T I’d suggest doing a bit of a cut if you’re a bit squishier around the edges than you’d like to be. Then when you start T make the most of that increased muscle building potential by bulking. By cutting first you should be able to bulk for longer-hence gain more muscle quickly- than if you were already a bit higher body fat % than you like.

A note on bulking though, when I say it I don’t mean it as an excuse to get an unhealthy body fat percent. I recommend gaining 1lbs per week to keep your fat gains minimal. I’m not saying everyone should want to be lean enough to have a 6 pack but I don’t think many people want to be gaining big amounts of fat.