When looking to build muscle and shed fat, you need the right amount of training volume, high-intensity workouts, and nutrition planning. One program that has helped people build muscle and transform their physiques is the Athlean-X Max Size program.
Athlean-X Max Size Program offers lifters of all levels a scalable, and intense training regimen and diet plan so they can build muscle, increase their fitness, and lose body fat. The program consists of three, 4-week phases, which takes you through challenging muscle-building workouts. The program includes large compound movements, free weights, machines, and bodyweight exercises.
My first impressions were that the Athlean-X Max Size program is very intense and delivers high volume, high intensity, and high amounts of movement variations; all of which have been established as potent muscle-building techniques. It also offers a complete 90-day nutrition program that does not require calorie or macro tracking, along with exercise demonstration videos to further enhance your experience and results.
That said, I did find some flaws in Athlean-X’s Max Size Program that are worth discussing more in-depth:
- First, this program is intense. I say this not as a challenge to people out there who want to prove themselves, but rather as a slight warning to some individuals.
- Secondly, this program only trains muscles once a week for the first two months of the program (excluding the last day of the week, which is a total body 10-min “Torcher” total body workout.
- Lastly, this program relies heavily on the lifter’s ability to maintain good technique when pushing to near or complete muscle failure.
Athlean-X Max Size program is a very good workout option for lifters who are ready to commit to an intense training cycle, are disciplined and skilled enough to maintain proper form and technique during tough workouts, and stay consistent with their diets for a 90-day period.
However, let me further dig into the reasons why another program may be beneficial to consider.
Why This May Not Be the Best Program for You
1. This Program May Be Too Intense for Some
I am not saying it cannot be done, or that being intense is a bad thing (as training intensity is necessary for growth).
However, it can be a lot of volume for some individuals who have issues recovering, are beginners, or are more advanced and simply cannot put that much stress on the body (yes, believe it or not, advanced lifters have to really pay attention to how much work they do vs how much they can recover from).
The workout program requires a high amount of commitment, some skill and understanding of how to push yourself to failure without letting your form break down, and the ability to do movements properly to not get injured as you start to fatigue out.
If you’re not someone who has a strong foundation and understanding of how to properly perform large compound movements like back squats, deadlifts, presses, bent-over rows, etc; you may find this program to really push you past what you are currently capable of.
Again, this isn’t to put beginners down, but rather to let people know that you will be pushing your movements and reps to near failure or complete failure, and in doing so you MUST ensure you are never sacrificing form. If you do, you could wind up injured.
If you are someone who is unsure about your ability to maintain proper form in a high-intensity training setting, you could try the Fitbod app (click to get 3 free workouts), which will base your workouts on your performance in the gym. The app takes into consideration several data points that learns how you should be progressing based on your logged training history.
2. Lacks Training Frequency
Training a muscle once a week and performing the entire week’s amount of volume on one day may not be as beneficial for muscle growth and recovery (and soreness).
Other muscle-building programs opt to train a muscle two or three times a week, spreading the weekly total training volume out to improve the quality of reps and sets, rather than do all the weekly training volume on one single day.
For example, instead of annihilating a muscle with 18 total sets on one day (which in most cases the last 4-6 sets are often low-quality reps, and often is where form breakdowns and injury can occur), some muscle building programs will opt to train the muscle one other day as well.
In doing so, you can ensure high-quality reps and sets, good muscle breakdown, but also make sure that you are not entering into a zone in which you may get injured (due to lack of discipline maintain proper form, or issues recovering properly).
3. High Fatiguing Sets May Result in Form Breakdowns and Injury
Training to near or complete muscle failure is a necessary aspect of building muscle and creating an environment within the muscle to signal protein synthesis and repair.
This program pushes the limits of that (again, not a bad thing at all) using high-volume work sets (10 sets of 10 reps) with compound movements like squats, bench press, bent-over rows. It then has you perform some exercise to complete and absolute failure, only to then do more reps in a small time frame to completely exhaust a muscle.
Those are very potent and effective ways to build muscle and gain size, however, they can also leave a less experienced lifter or someone who allows form breakdowns as they get tired susceptible to injury.
That said, Athlean-X does address a lot of these concerns with the exercise tutorials demonstrating proper technique, however, lifters still should be aware that they will quickly find themselves in a place of muscle failure and need to understand the difference between pushing to failure with good form vs pushing to failure at the expense of good form.
To recap, this is why I feel you should go with an app like Fitbod instead of Athlean-X Max Size program:
- Allows for lifters of all levels and abilities to find challenging programs that integrate drive muscle growth with exercises that match the lifters abilities and experience levels
- Provides you with in-app videos on proper lifting technique and form
- Modifies your workouts weekly to adjust to your individual performance week to week, to allow for better recovery and progress
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
Now, let’s dive into the full review of Athlean-X Max Size program.
Program Review – Athlean-X Max Size Program
Below you will find my full program review of Athlean-X Max Size program.
About the Creator – Jeff Cavaliere
Athlean X is built on the philosophy of delivering safe and effective workouts that get undeniable results.
Jeff Cavaliere, founder of Athlean-X, received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy and Bachelor of Science in Physioneurobiology / Premedicine from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.
Off the field, Cavaliere is a much sought after author and lecturer, speaking on the topics of baseball injury prevention and sport-specific conditioning and has appeared numerous times in print media writing (including many of the top Fitness Magazines) on the topics of sports training, injury rehabilitation and prevention
Jeff has also served as both the Head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets during the National League East Championship 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons and coached some of the game’s most accomplished players. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
What is Athlean-X Max Size Program
Athlean-X Max Size program is 12-week (three, four week training phases) geared primarily for lifters looking to gain weight, build muscle and improve their basic athleticism with a wide variety of strength movements, plyometrics, and bodyweight training.
This training program consists of five workouts per week (the firth workout every week is a quick workout). Each workout is roughly 45-60 minutes in length, with the last workout of the week being 10-20 minutes in length (“Torcher” workout).
The first phase sets a good foundation for volume and higher work capacity with 10×10 protocols with compound movements with lighter weights. The second and third phases are higher in volume, and include techniques like super sets to push the intensity of the workouts even further.
Athlean-X Max Size Program
Athlean-X Max Size program is delivered to you in a robust package, one that includes:
- A personalized online portal to view your program, diet plan, exercise videos, and FAQ section
- 32-page workout program and planner (downloadable PFD)
- 90-Day meal plan calendar
The program itself is broken down into three, four-week phases, each designed to prepare you for increased training volume and intensity to further drive muscle growth as the weeks and phases progress.
In the below sections, we will discuss the key training variables that every lifter should be aware of when looking to gain muscle and strength, and how Athlean-X Max Size program addresses each one.
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This program does not follow a traditional periodization model in which lifters would try to linearly increase loads or reps week to week.
The program starts with a main compound movement, done at a specific % of maximum (for example 10 sets of 10 reps at 60% max).
The following week, the main strength movement is changed (lets say week one you do back squat for 10×10 at 60%, then week 2 you do deadlift for 10×10 at 60%).
By constantly varying the main movements, you make it difficult to have a systematic progression for those movements.
That said, later in sessions, you perform a movement to complete failure (for example, push ups) on your first set. In later weeks, you could progress linearly (linear progression) by performing more reps, however, this is more up to the lifter if they can push themselves harder rather than a programmed progression.
Athlean-X Max Size program follows a four-day training split, with the fifth day being a short, total-body “torcher” workout.
- Day 1 – Chest and Back
- Day 2 – Legs
- Day 3 – Rest
- Day 4 – Arms
- Day 5 – Shoulders and Traps
- Day 6 – 10 Minute “Torcher” Workout
- Day 7 – Rest
For the majority of the program, you will train a muscle once per week, which could be an issue when looking to maximize muscle growth (see below).
Athlean-X Max Size program places high emphasis on the development of muscle mass using both compound strength movements, bodyweight exercises, and more isolation style movements.
The movements themselves are specific to the muscles they are intended to target. The compound lifts allow a lifter to move loads and volume and stress the muscles as a whole, with more isolation and bodyweight exercises being used to push a muscle to complete failure.
Athlean-X Max Size program is high in training volume, which can be expected when training four to five days per week in a program that is made to build maximize muscle.
With that said, most lifters should have no issues with recovery if they adhere to proper training intensities. Muscles are trained once per week, in high volumes, which could lead to a good amount of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), but nothing unexpected.
The overall training volume progresses from the first phase to the second and third, with the second phase being a more drastic increase (the first four weeks is a progressive increase in training volume to help prepare lifters for the last 8 weeks).
Athlean-X Max Size program progressively overloads throughout most of this program via increased training volume, increased loading (allowing self-selection of weights to be used), and pushing to failure further with more reps.
As discussed in the “Periodization” section above, there are no clearly defined or structured linear or undulating periodization models present, however, there is the ability to increase things week to week with some movements (such as push-ups) at the lifter’s discretion.
The most common form of overloading is by extending sets (rest pauses, controlled eccentrics, supersets) and performing more volume week to week.
Athlean-X Max Size program is a balanced program in terms of recovery, however, it could be a shock to beginners who have not worked out consistently or to people who do not train a muscle to complete exhaustion in a single workout (such as people who adopt the idea that they would rather train a muscle 2-3 times a week than once a week).
If the individual understands how important sleep, nutrition, and how to safely and effectively train to near or complete failure during a workout, they will be able to best monitor their recovery and progress accordingly week to week.
If the individual is not a beginner or someone who has experience with higher volume training, I suspect recovery to not be an issue.
Athlean-X Max Size program is a templated program that is marketed towards offering people a safe and effective way to build muscle at any level (beginner to advanced athletes and lifters).
Individual concerns like previous injuries, access to equipment, and training schedules can be an issue for some, but this would be the case for most templated training programs.
Athlean-X Max Size program does not as many exercise swaps (in case you do not have the required equipment) when compared to other templated training programs as compared to working remotely or using a more personalized training app program like the Fitbod app.
4 Benefits of Athlean-X Max Size Program
Below are four benefits of the Athlean-X Max Size program.
1. Scalable to All Levels
Athlean-X Max Size program is a scalable program, one that beginner or advanced lifters can use. Most movements are ones any intermediate or advanced lifter has done already, and beginners should have no issue learning foundational lifts starting out.
The workouts (phase 1) start with 10×10 work sets, at 60% of max or a moderate to heavy load. This range of loading allows people to work to near failure, yet do so with safer loads and often be abel to individualize their workout intensities accordingly.
Additionally, taking sets to failure, and then using that number to dictate your next few sets (in terms of how many more reps to do), is a smart way to make it realistic and doable for the beginner (someone who can do 10-20 push-ups) and the advanced lifter (someone who can do 50+ push-ups).
2. Focuses on Key Muscle Growth Factors
Athlean-X Max Size program uses training volume and pushing to muscular failure as two of the main variables to promote muscle breakdown and growth.
This program is high volume in nature, and also pushes the muscle to high points of fatigue using techniques like max rep sets, timed back-off sets (minimal rest periods), and supersets.
3. Offers Exercise Technique Videos for All Movements
Athlean-X Max Size program offers a full exercise library with demonstrations and instructions on how to properly perform each movement in the program. These videos are viewable within the Max Size online portal.
4. 90-Day Nutrition Plan
Athlean-X Max Size program can be viewed in the portal or downloaded and printed out (PDFs).
The program itself does not require you to count macronutrients or track calories. Instead, it has you focus on eating more meals per day, filling up on fruits and vegetables, eating lean protein, and getting fats from nuts and seeds. It also has you eating carbs, but around your workouts.
The 90-Day meal plan lays out specific meals you can make, and when to eat them (for example, a 3pm midday snack of an apple, bottle of water, and a small can of tuna).
The meals aren’t the most flexible, however, they will often result in you eating more fruits, vegetables, protein, and cutting down on eating foods higher in sugars, fats, and processed carbs.
3 Negatives of Athlean-X Max Size Program
Below are three negatives of Athlean-X’s Max Size program.
1. Very Intense
Athlean-X Max Size program is intense, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it is something to be aware of if you are:
(1) starting out and are a complete beginner
(2) returning to the gym after a long period of time not training consistently
(3) not experienced working with barbells performing heavy squats, deadlift, and presses while fatigued
(4) recovering from injury or nagging chronic joint/muscle injuries.
If you are one of the above individuals, you may find this program to push the envelop too much too soon, which could do more harm than good.
2. Requires Experience Training to Failure, for Best Results
Athlean-X Max Size program has you performing 10 sets of 10 reps with moderate loading (60% maxes), and performing some movements (bodyweight, dumbbells, and machines) to complete failure.
While these are very effective ways to build muscle (which is why this can be taken as a pro rather than a con), it can be potentially worrisome for lifters who are not well versed in that type of training AND are not 100% competent training heavier compound exercises and maintain good technique during high rep sets, long workouts, and high amounts of mental and physical fatigue.
3. Minimal Emphasis on Maximal Strength Development
Athlean-X Max Size program is not a program geared to develop strength.
If you are a beginner, you will find you will be able to improve strength and muscle, however, for more advanced lifters and athletes, this workout program sacrifices maximal strength development for muscle growth via high training volumes.
If you are after high strength output (for example increasing your back squat by 20lbs in 12 weeks, and are not a beginner), you may find the program to be too much volume with too light of loads and progressions to elicit the neural responses you are looking for.
Who is Athlean-X’s Max Size Program For?
Athlean-X Max Size program is a solid option for most lifters looking to gain lean body mass, increase their work capacity and muscular endurance, and improve their body composition (lose fat).
This 12-week program focuses on large compound exercises like the squat, the deadlift, and the press), and integrates modalities like bodyweight training, dumbbells, barbells, and cables to help progress you in a way that will build muscle and optimize progress over time.
But, before you jump on the program, make sure you consider the drawbacks listed above.
Who is Athlean-X’s Max Size Program For?
If you are someone who tends to have issues with recovery, Athlean X Max Size is intense. If you are someone who knows they have issues recovering from hard and intense training or do not have a lifestyle that allows you to get adequate sleep, eat properly, and tend to beat yourself up throughout the day; this program may be too much to kickstart your fitness.
If you are someone who does not already have good form or technique with exercises, Athlean X Max Size requires you to train to near failure or failure every set, which can be difficult for beginners or individuals who struggle with maintain proper technique while still pushing to failure.
If you are a powerlifter or an advanced lifter looking to increase strength, Athlean X Max Size program may not be the best program for you as it has little emphasis on developing strength using linear or undulating periodization. The heavily reliance of just volume alone can build muscle well, however it may not be the best approach for more advanced lifters looking to increase muscle strength as well.
Athlean-X Max Size Program – Final Recommendation
This program is a great training program for lifters looking to build muscle and gain size with a fast-paced, intense training program that provides a steady diet of compound barbell and free weight movements followed by training muscles to failure with a variety of movements and equipment.
That said, if you are an beginner lifter, you may find the program to be too intense and not account for any technique issues or lack of training to fatigue needs you may have.
While this may also be a negative for some, the high amount of training volume and intensity provided in this program will often result in great results.
Lastly, I would suggest that this program is ideal for disciplined lifters who are looking to develop muscle mass, lose fat, and expand their mental and physical limitations through hard training and dieting.
Final Program Review Score…
9.2 out of 10
For those reasons, I really think this program hits the mark across the board for most disciplined lifters who are looking for results, and are willing to put in the necessary time, energy, and effort both in the gym and in the kitchen.
For most other individuals though, who may want be starting out or are not completely sure if they can commit to a vigorous training program and adhere to a strict diet plan for 90 days, I recommend you check out the Fitbod App, as it allows you to choose programs based on your level, training schedules, and goals, and customizes your workouts weekly to adapt to your previous performances to improve your results every week.
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About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.