Sporting a badass name like “Greyskull” and nicknaming himself something villainous like “Johnny Pain,” John Sheaffer’s Greyskull LP Beginner Program sets the bar disturbingly high.
While absolutely daunting, this 293-page guide puts to paper the now-famed Greyskull Barbell Club training principles — a beginner fitness program built around linear progression (LP).
… the internet lurkers have spoken.
This powerlifting strength-building program is almost untouchable (in a good way) and is the default suggestion for scrubs looking to pack on serious, intimidating mass.
But for the still-curious, stick around. We’re about to wade knee-deep through this ebook to find out whether the Greyskull LP Beginner Program is the long-awaited secret to noob gains.
Quick Review (Spoilers)
Greyskull LP is a great program if you don’t have a lick of training experience, want to reel in those noob gains quickly (strength and mass), and have a normal life to attend to as well. But it’s also nowhere near perfect. The volume might seem too little, you might have to build a routine from scratch, and a lot of the included words are just that — words.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
- Straight-to-the-point exercises proven to make gains
- Dozens of templates to accommodate your training style
- Lots of positive feedback among serious lifters that this program works
- Training volume is very low
- Not enough strict rules about the program and too much “do whatever you want”
- Anything that could take two sentences to explain somehow takes three or four pages
- Warm-ups, a diet plan, and rest times are all noticeably absent
Best Alternative – Superhero X12
- Build noticeable muscle size in only 3 sessions per week that tailor to your schedule
- Follow done-for-you workouts (no guesswork)
- Full diet plan included that let’s your eat your favorite foods on a daily basis
- Tackle multiple goals with one program (Gain size, lose fat, build strength, and more)
About the Creator – John Sheaffer (AKA: Johnny Pain)
We know what you’re thinking, and the answer is a resounding “yes.” The man dubbed Johnny Pain certainly earned that nickname (picture a 250-pound powerhouse with head-to-toe tattoos).
Now that we’ve gotten that beast out of the way (literally), you want to know even more!
Here it is.
Johnny Pain is the mastermind behind the Greyskull Barbell Club, a Pennsylvania-based training facility gathering “disciples” who didn’t fit into the classic cookie-cutter molds.
His no B.S. mindset turned this combat veteran paratrooper and Neurolinguistic Programming advocate into an internet fitness sensation (a popular AMA guest on Reddit, too!).
In the last few decades, Pain has published more than a dozen books (all strength & conditioning-related) and has even taken on digital training clients via Skype coaching.
Now, for the elephant in the room (or technically, not in the room). Pain’s original website (strengthvillain.com) is now defunct.
Aside from occasional Instagram posts and his Shopify store, he’s dropped off the face of the digital earth.
What we do know: Johnny Pain builds his programs around the faults he finds in other training regimens. He also shares his love for the sweet, sweet combination of heavy sets and high reps!
What is the Greyskull LP Beginner Program?
In Johnny Pain’s own words: “People just love this Greyskull LP shit.”
The Greyskull LP Beginner program is the self-described viking Johnny Pain’s own linear progression offshoot offering almost no structural rigidity (we’ll get to that in a moment).
The Greyskull LP: Second Edition
Here’s a very user-friendly system for anyone interested in building quality strength and muscle. Written by John Sheaffer (aka Johnny Pain) of StrengthVillain.com
After realizing that the pinprick-sized holes in other strength and mass-building programs were more like mile-wide craters, Pain crafted his GSLP ideology around these concepts:
- The four major lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, press)
- Three training days per week following an A/B pattern
- Gradually load progression (ex: adding a 5-pounder to the bar each week)
- An extra emphasis on squats
- Upper-body exercises first (in the name of energy preservation)
- Three working sets per lift (except the deadlift with one measly set)
- Training to failure to trigger serious mass and strength gains
Chapter two drags on (and on and on) about the ideas flinging through his mind as he created GSLP over ten years ago. In his own words, “the magic that makes this thing so damn effective.”
The ideology includes a “reset” to remaster your training when the reps aren’t there (dropping the weight ever-so-slightly), detonating finicky plateaus and your ego simultaneously (… ironic).
After a tangent, we finally found his rep beliefs: cycling between 12 and 5 is best.
Oh … and no rows (there’s a winding 2.5-page explanation for why he doesn’t believe in them, at least at the foundational beginner level).
Greyskull LP Beginner Program Details & Features
Starting his book off with Biggie lyrics in the acknowledgments section set the tone for the remaining 200 or so pages (for better or for worse).
If the sarcasm, bluntness, a palpable ego, and 28 F-bombs don’t cause your eyes to roll to the back of your head, the Greyskull LP (third edition) is worth a second glance.
Here’s what you’ll find wedged between its digital covers … starting with chapter three since the first 46-ish pages are essentially a long-winded and rambling introduction:
How to Follow the OG Base Program
Congratulations on making it to page 47 (only 246 to go!).
The appropriately dubbed “OG Base Program” is the original regimen Johnny Pain launched several years back on his now-dead StrengthVillain.com.
The three-day Monday/Wednesday/Friday program looked a little something like this:
- Monday: Presses & Squats*
- Wednesday: Bench Presses & Deadlifts
- Friday: Preses & Squats
Now, we know what you’re wondering. “I’m supposed to buy this 200-something page book, only to learn that the four major exercises are good for gains?”
(Cue the Ralphie from A Christmas Story disappointment when his secret decoder ring reveals *spoiler alert* “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”)
Nope! This three-day split is nothing more than a foundation (again, Pain is no fan of rigidity), so you’ll add more to your program to better match your fitness and physique goals.
* = Remember, presses and bench presses are on an A/B loop. The following week, you’d swap them so that you’re hitting them either once or twice weekly.
This is a very similar setup to some other very popular strength training programs like Starting Strength and StrongLifts where compound lifts steal the spotlight for maximum strength gains early on.
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd Edition
Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe has been called one of the best weightlifting books in the world and has been used by tens of thousands to begin strength training.
No Time? No Problem.
Unless you’re sitting on a big ass pile of dimes, three training sessions a week may not mesh with your other responsibilities (#adulting). Not to worry — Johnny Pain also built a two-day version.
This A/B style variation might look more like this:
- Monday: Presses & Squats
- Thursday: Bench Presses & Deadlifts
The beauty in the two-day version is that you can jumble it up however you see fit. Work out any two days you have available, or add a third workout when your schedule clears out.
100% Committed to Gains? It Does That Too.
If you recognize the trend here … Johnny Pain also details how to turn this three (or two-day) split into a more time-consuming four-day method
Four major lifts = one per day. It practically writes itself.
Supercharge Your Workouts With Plug-Ins
If you stopped reading in the last section, you’d exit stage left with a grimace on your face and the phrase “That’s it?” pouring out of your mouth. Hell no, it’s only the beginning, baby.
Chapter four shifts the focus to what JP (what Johnny Pain calls himself in third-person) refers to as “plug-ins” or ways to build onto the 2-4 day foundation to make this program your own.
Get ready to DIY Greyskull LP.
In this 30-some page chapter, Johnny Pain dives into topics like:
- Which movements are worth adding to a strength routine (ex: curls, rows*, dips)
- How many sets and reps to infuse (hint: he dodges the question quite masterfully before reluctantly offering suggestions for popular add-ons)
- Whether or not you should do bodyweight training (surprisingly, he’s all for it)
- How to add bodyweight training to your current program (detailing three military-esque methods that work)
- How to work up to your first chin-up or negatives (ah, slowly)
- If high-intensity cardio is really a bodybuilding sin (come on … no)
Pain includes several “Bonuses” in this section that are more like tips (suggestions to read a particular book and how to plan a 20-minute low-intensity cardio session).
He closes out with something dubbed “Villain Challenge One,” which, without getting into too much detail, is about as evil as they come (think about your least favorite exercise — it’s that).
There are more plug-ins in a little while, so stay tuned!
* = If you’re paying attention, Pain doubled down in the first few chapters, convinced that rows aren’t necessary. But if a row-less routine isn’t on your bucket list, go ahead and add ‘em.
Stay On the Right Track (Guarantee Continued Progress)
Chapter five (page 89, for anyone tallying it up at home) is called “Carry on wayward son,” along with some expletives (because why not?).
He explains his dislike for beginner, intermediate, and advanced routines and suggests that they don’t help progress for those who want to “get the panties” (actual quote). We’ve come full circle.
Pain reveals surefire ways to squeeze progress out of this program.
The consensus seems to be four things:
- Variations (ex: swapping in floor presses for standard benches)
- Rotation (alternating between variants)
None of this information is new (unless you’re such a fresh face that “progressive overload” or “plateaus” sound like indecipherable jargon).
By page 105, you’ll have some baseline fitness principles in your repertoire, promises that you’ll get the girl (eh), and some inspiration to join Gold’s Gym within the hour.
But something’s missing. Oh yeah, a usable pre-planned workout routine.
In the midst of chapter six, Pain will expose you to just that via templates he’s designed for past gains-seekers. To detail how specific these routines are, take a look at a few of their names:
- Modified Greyskull LP Mass Gain Base with Rotating Lifts
- Gladiator “Linebacker” Focus
- Fat Loss (including plug-ins, like conditioning)
- Run Forrest, Run
- Aggressive Female Fat Loss
- The Weekend Warrior (for MMA)
- One-Hour Recall (a military-esque theme)
- Peaking for a Powerlifting Meet
Some variants include extra details (the whys and hows, in particular). But these routines are pretty vague or confusing from the onset.
For example, it’s not clear how much rest to leave between chin-up sets. Or why we must name a female routine “Beefin’ up That Ass” (who, of course, is using her husband’s home gym).
Prepare yourself: if you’re used to a 60-minute, high-volume routine, you’ll be out of your element. For instance, the “Josh,” has six sets in a single workout and only three exercises (lame).
For something high-volume like this, you might want to strap on a weightlifting belt for additional support. The improved core-bracing will keep your form in tip-top shape as you power through every rep so you’ll stimulate more muscle growth with each set.
Dark Iron Fitness Genuine Leather Pro Weight Lifting Belt
A comfortable belt that does not dig into your sides. Customers average a 10% lift increase with this belt. Free replacement if it fails.
Help is finally here!
As you do your research, you’ll notice another name tacked onto Greyskull LP: Phrak. This variant is perhaps even more popular than the standard GSLP, and for a good reason.
Phrakture’s Variant adds a few twists, most notably more pulling movements (ex: rows and pull-ups) and bumping up from two exercises per workout to three.
Final sets are AMRAP (as many reps as possible), you can swap in power-cleans as a pre-deadlift warm-up, and deloads are in order if you fail to hit five reps in the final set.
That’s the gist of it!
The Greyskull Exercise Index
After waiting patiently for 151 pages, we’re finally at the science-y part (or so we think).
(Off topic, but it’s painfully ironic for Johnny Pain to write, “Presenting an idea in a sentence is better than a paragraph,” after endless text walls that sometimes don’t mean a damn thing.)
Pain suggests not breathing at all during reps (which is questionable advice) before he finally gets to the meaty part: the exercise index.
In these 50-or-so pages, he explains in full detail how to do each exercise, including:
- Variations (and whether or not they’re overplayed)
- Proper and improper form (supported by black and white pictures)
- How to correct form & perform each movement step by step
Just a note: the long-winded everything doesn’t come to a grinding halt in this section. Pain dedicates an entire ten pages to talking about how to do the squat (not exaggerating).
He also goes into other exercises (not just the core four), like sumo deadlifts, rack pulls, decline bench presses, weighted chin-ups, etc.
The photos and info are nice, but we can’t help but question why he didn’t just record 30-60 second videos for each and include a link. From a beginner’s perspective, it’d be less daunting.
This section trails off into the conclusion!
But Wait, There’s More: Bonus Content
You’d think that Johnny Pain’s knack for including bonus content would end after the conclusion. If you’re a betting man, you might be better off at the Borgata or Golden Nugget.
The bonus section starting on page 220 is full of posts once featured on his site, JohnnyPainLive.com, which is a good call considering this site is also no longer up and running.
Sure enough, it’s exactly how it sounds. If “The 360 Fat Loss Challenge” or “Three Valuable Tips for Maximum Results” perks your ears, they might be worth a read.
The “eh factor” is stronger than ever in this section. Aside from the shameless self-promotion of his now-defunct website (oops), most of these articles aren’t even backed scientifically (a trend).
Is It Good For Hypertrophy?
At least for squats, presses, and bench presses (the latter two in a sporadic A/B format), it fits nicely in line with a 2016 study suggesting that a twice-a-week frequency maximizes growth.
(We left out deadlifts because Johnny Pain insists they’re a once-a-week kind of deal.)
The reps are also neatly wedged into the ACSM’s hypertrophy recommendations: 8-12 reps per set and 1-3 sets per exercise.
But anecdotally (and by that, we mean Redditors honest about their experience), here are some notable comment quotes:
- “Nothing dramatic is going to happen in 3 months.”
- “It really isn’t a hypertrophy program.”
- “I would say that GSLP is not a pure hypertrophy program.”
- “This is not meant to be a hypertrophy program.”
If your trust in a program depends solely on the reflection in the mirror, GSLP might be wildly disappointing. Muscle gains will accompany the strength gains, however (that’s how it works).
Before and After (What Can You Expect?)
Luckily, enough people trusted Johnny Pain and attempted the GSLP where we have some results (at least on the strength end of things).
One impressed lifter added 50 pounds to his squat, 120 to his deadlift, and 40 to his bench press in a little under a year.
Another (on Phrak’s version) nearly doubled his squat (120 to 225 pounds), tripled his chin-ups (5 to 15), and gained eight pounds (183 to 191).
Results will vary depending on which template or variant you follow. But if you’re stuck in a relentless plateau and want to double or triple your gains as a noob, GSLP can be an option.
8 Impressive Benefits of This Beginner Program
- It doesn’t include any wacky “cutting-edge” exercises that are just strange variations of the ones you know well (these exercises aren’t new per se).
- If you’re a true noob looking for a training program that matches you (gains, females, CrossFit, military), there are literally dozens of pre-made templates to try.
- Though the Phrak Variant seems to be more highly regarded amongst tried-and-true lifters, most people report gains (strength, mass, or both).
- The 5-rep range for the four major lifts is powerlifting-based, so it’ll check your boxes if you’re eyeing big numbers.
- You can customize the routine to your liking to better target your goals. Even though it’s not flawless as a hypertrophy program, if you’re craving bicep gains, adding single-joint bicep exercises like curls can potentially trigger 1.2% greater growth (2018 study).
- If you’re adding 2.5-5 pounds to the bar per workout, you can potentially add 10-20 pounds apiece to your major lifts.
- There’s no odd emphasis that cardio and weightlifting is an either-or scenario. As long as you’re eating enough calories to nurture gains, running isn’t off the table.
- Pain gives examples of how to do things. For instance, he explains what a Pyramid generally looks like and calculates the coveted “reset” to fight plateaus.
6 Negatives of the Program
- At the foundational level, the overall training volume (except for squats) is absurdly low. One working set of deadlifts per week should be illegal.
- The entire 293-page book essentially spells out “do whatever you want” at its very core (other than 5-12 reps per set and add-on suggestions, a beginner will struggle to build a routine from scratch unless they hop onto one of the included templates).
- The constant references to panty-dropping (and a female-only routine labeled “Beefin’ up That Ass”) are a little over-the-top, even as jokes.
- The entire book could’ve been 100-or-so pages shorter with video links, no inclusion of his previously posted blog articles, and getting right to the point. Anything that could take two sentences to explain somehow takes three or four pages.
- Oddly enough, Johnny Pain doesn’t just not include science or biomechanics in his guide; he goes out of his way to insist it’s essentially worthless knowledge. It seems he’s banking on blind trust from desperate lifters.
- The aggressive anti-row mentality is a bit. According to a 2013 study, the average adult’s push muscles are 1.5-2.7 stronger than their pull. Yes, muscle balance matters in the long haul (mostly in the injury prevention world).
- Warm-ups, a diet plan, and rest times are all noticeably absent.
Wrapping Up This Greyskull LP Beginner Program Review
The Greyskull LP Beginner Program is as hit-or-miss as they come, which may come as a controversial opinion if you’ve explored other reviews on the book.
This is a great program if you don’t have a lick of training experience, want to reel in those noob gains quickly (strength and mass), and have a normal life to attend to as well.
Just pick a template, tweak some add-ons (plug-ins), and you’re on your way!
But it’s also nowhere near perfect. The volume might seem too little, you might have to build a routine from scratch, and a lot of the included words are just that — words.
For true beginners looking to cash in on fast progress, StrongLifts 5×5 might be a better option. Otherwise, the 2.5-5 pound addition to each workout might tick every one of your boxes!
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Try This Program Instead
While Greyskull LP is a decent program for building beginner strength and muscle size, it has a few major flaws that make it inefficient compared to other programs.
That why we think a comparable alternative is Superhero X12 by FitMole.
First, Greyskull LP is going to be very difficult for beginners to gain muscle since there are no nutrition guidelines whatsoever.
Many fitness experts will tell you that improving your physique is roughly 20% training and 80% nutrition.
But for some reason, Johnnie Pain didn’t think that having instructions on what to eat was very important for you to see results.
Yea, we don’t agree with that.
On the other hand, Superhero X12 comes with a detailed, 81-page Diet & Nutrition Guide that explains everything you need to know about “how” and “what” you should eat to build muscle.
Plus, it includes some SX12 exclusive strategies like Macro Flex Tracking and a “done-for-you” calorie calculator that you won’t find anywhere else.
Not to mention all the other things included like:
- Main Workout Guide (57 Pages)
- Nova and Titan Series Workouts (for Beginners and Intermediates)
- Exercise Demo Vault with 75 HD Videos
- Complete Sample Meal Plans
- Access to the Exclusive SX12 Support Forum
- And More!
Second, Greyskull LP has too much filler and is probably 100+ pages too long.
Like we said earlier, things that probably could have taken two sentences to say are stretched out over multiple pages.
Not to mention the copy/pasted blog posts that should have just been hyperlinks to the original sources.
Come on. Your time is valuable and you shouldn’t have to spend it listening to someone ramble in PDF form.
Alternatively, Superhero X12 gets straight to the point with only actionable techniques so you can transform your body as fast as possible.
The program includes:
- Cheat sheets
- A quick start guide
- A calorie calculator
- Scannable PDFs
- HD videos
…all designed to cut out the bull and help you make progress as soon as you sign up.
Finally, the Greyskull LP might be confusing for many beginners since one of the primary messages in the book is “do whatever you want”.
We get it. When it comes to training, there are different aspects that can be customized based on your goals.
However, when I was a noob there were a lot of things that I just should NOT have been making decisions on.
I could have made much faster progress had someone just told me exactly what to do instead of just saying “do whatever you want”.
On the flipside, Superhero X12 lays out exactly what training strategies to follow while still giving you enough variation that you don’t feel restricted by one single method.
This is how you can make fast progress and not get bored!
So to sum it all up, Greyskull is good, but SX12 might be a little more complete.
- You get all the tools and materials you need to build muscle, shred body fat, and maintain a six pack all year long
- You can start making progress faster because SX12 cuts out all the filler content
- There’s no guesswork because all the workouts, meal plans, and muscle-building strategies are done for you
But like we always say, you don’t have to take our word for it.
Check out Superhero X12 for yourself and see if it’s a good fit for you.
Build a Superhero Body Without Training Like One
Getting in shape isn’t easy. But this program gives you a real-life approach to building a leaner, more muscular body without obsessing over fitness 24/7.