Is Old School Iron by Athlean-X for Beginners? (Review)

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Branded with a kick-ass name like “Old School Iron,” this Athlean-X training program sounds like a time warp to the 1970s.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was crowned Mr. Olympia, bodybuilding entered its “Golden Era,” and the Beatles dominated the airwaves (completely irrelevant, but still somehow relevant).

Routines revolved around clunky barbells, compound exercises, and full-body workouts.

Athlean-X promises that this routine exists because of the “iron legends” of the bodybuilding world. But if you’re hunting noob gains, there’s likely one nagging thought holding you back:

Is Old School Iron by Athlean-X for beginners?

About the Creator – Jeff Cavaliere (& Athlean-X)

The Athlean-X training platform is the bodybuilder’s version of Beachbody On Demand (I’ll probably catch a lot of flack for daring to compare the two).

It features dozens of fitness programs, with a little something for everyone.

But to truly understand programs like AX1, Core4, or Old School Iron (this one), you need to learn about the man behind Athlean-X: Jeff Cavaliere.

Jeff Cavaliere’s 2.1 million Instagram followers, 11.6 million YouTube subscribers, and 44K Twitter fans didn’t discover him by happenstance.

His plunge into the fitness industry began decades ago, rising to viral status because of his:

  • Physical therapy degree
  • Experience as the Mets’ Assistant Strength Coach
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) certification
  • Biomechanical approach to training (science-y)
  • Celeb-trainer status (David Wright, Antonio Brown, etc.)

Jeff Cavaliere and Athlean-X are now household names amongst fitness enthusiasts. Though, he sunk into a reputation blunder after viewers suspected he uses “fake weights” in his videos.

If true, it’s a remarkably odd way to stroke his ego.

What is Athlean-X’s Old School Iron?

You’ve always wondered how Arnold, Frank, and Zane sculpted their podium-nabbing and stage-stealing physiques before modern science took hold of the industry (besides, you know …).

Athlean-X’s Old School Iron settles on the old-school bodybuilding training foundation that the elites relied on themselves. The program follows a three-step approach:

  1. Old school lifts
  2. Old school techniques
  3. New school science (now, this might destroy the whole “old school” concept)

This four-month program promises four phases-worth of gains through strength training and mass-building meals. But you’ve gone down the rabbit hole once or twice: does it work?

You’ll catch a glimpse in the next section!

Old School Iron Details & Features

At first glance, it’s hard not to pass judgment on a program titled “Old School Iron.” The training routines of the 70s elites had 50 years to make their rounds on the web. What else is left?

Well, let’s look at the program to see if this is just another standard Athlean-X program. We’ll look at it from the perspective of beginners looking to bulk up in the early days of training.

Calendar & Schedule

If you like to plan deep into the future, this program isn’t for you. On day one, anything beyond month one will be a complete mystery until you mark the first 28 workouts “complete.”

But here’s a look at the Old School Iron calendar, at least in phase one:

  1. Total Body
  2. Old School Abs / Classic Correctives
  3. Total Body
  4. Old School Abs / Classic Correctives
  5. Total Body
  6. Rest & Recovery
  7. Rest & Recovery

The Total Body workouts cycle through A-D for a little variety. And while the Old School Abs / Classic Correctives workouts all share the same name, they seem to offer different exercises.

Generally, plan for 1-2 rest days a week (which is within reason for a complete newbie).

Equipment Needed

If your weightlifting experience starts and stops with driving by the local Planet Fitness, this routine might require a little extra effort (and $10-ish/month of funding).

Unless you have a barbell, adjustable bench, dumbbell set, pull-up bar, resistance bands, and a jump rope collecting dust in the basement, you’ll need — at bare minimum — a gym membership.

Again, that could cost $100/year, and some gyms offer free “trial periods” (wink).

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Version 2

Each dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52.5 pounds. Rapidly switch from one exercise to the next. You don’t need multiple dumbbells cluttering up your home gym.

What the Workouts Are Like

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. You’re here because you’re weighing whether OSI can double as a beginner routine, and we’re here to tip the scales toward either yes or no.

Or somewhere in-between.

Here’s a look at the Old School Iron workouts (again, in phase one only):

More About the Phases

The underlying bummer here is that the only way we can skip to phase two and beyond is if we mark workouts as “complete.” Kudos to Athlean-X for protecting their materials.

The four phases include:

  1. The Golden Six – strength-building
  2. Muscle Beach – classic bodybuilding splits to trigger growth
  3. Mass’ter Class – kicking the mass-building up a notch
  4. Legends Remastered – putting the legends’ routines to the test

Description-wise, it all makes sense. Practice the basics of strength-building before moving up to more challenging splits and mass-building strategies.

But here’s why we’ll judge it by its first four weeks: it takes about 66 days to create a habit. If you can’t survive the 28 days of phase one, day 29 and onward means literally nothing.

Below, we’ll get into what phase one looks like:

Total Body Workouts

Old School Iron sprinkles in two full-body workouts per week in true old-school bodybuilding fashion, at least during phase one!

And as much as it neglects the glamour muscles you’re probably here to sculpt (biceps, triceps), you’d look quite silly with massive arms and a non-existent chest and back.

That’s why the A through D total body workouts feature exercises like:

  • Squats
  • Bench presses
  • Rows
  • Skull-crushers
  • Curls
  • Lunges

The “Golden Six” refers to six movements (some of which are in the list above). You’ll crush through about three of them until you segue into the hypertrophy phase of the workout.

For most, you’ll stick to 2-3 sets per exercise and somewhere between 5 reps to failure.

Now, that tosses up a red flag for beginners, especially because “failure” means sacrificing good form. If you’re hunching your back during lunges, you’re putting yourself at risk for serious injury.

Here’s a mildly controversial opinion: stop when you think you have 1-2 reps left in the tank.

Old School Abs / Classic Correctives

If Athlean-X was hoping to coax in beginners, using phrasing more enticing than the ever-bland “classic correctives” likely would’ve been on their to-do list.

It sounds about as exciting as Ben Stein grumbling “Bueller” repeatedly.

But here’s a rundown.

The Old School Abs / Classic Correctives workout is all about filling in the training gaps where many lifters seem to take shortcuts. By that, we mean exercises like:

  • Hanging leg raises
  • Face pulls
  • Reverse hypers
  • Russian presses
  • Clam shells

If you were hoping for extra clarification or detail, you’d be waiting for a while. The “Instruxions” (yes, that’s really how they spell it) are pretty vague.

All we can gather from these workouts is that they’ll build core strength and target muscle groups that are notoriously weak. The lack of detail and odd names makes them seem a bit random.

Exercises aside, these workouts fit the textbook definition of “unique.”

Some exercises call for 6×6, others for 3×25, and a few for 3×12-15. When the classic 5×5 routine becomes bland and tiresome, these twice-weekly workouts will add some excitement.

(All exercises have a walkthrough video explaining how to do them.)

Old School Iron Meal Plan

Athlean-X tends to be hit-or-miss in the meal plan and nutrition department. And by that, we mean there’s either a detailed daily meal plan … or you’re completely left to your own devices.

The good news: Old School Iron has an attached plan (*beginner’s sigh of relief*). But the plan somehow straddles the line between “extremely detailed” and “wait, what?”

What’s on the menu is clear, whether that’s grilled tuna, a peach, or roasted green beans. However, let’s hope you’re an expert in serving sizes because those are completely AWOL.

Color-coding each nutrient to describe if it’s protein, fats, starchy carbs, or fibrous carbs is like a crash course in nutrition.

Recommending the Athlean-X supplements three times a day is overkill. However, some supplements like creatine and certain pre-workouts are actually worth the investment.

Swolverine Kre-Alkalyn Creatine

If you want more strength, muscle, and power, this supplement is 100 servings of pure creatine to speed up recovery and increase your gains in the gym. Mixes easily in any drink without any added ingredients.

Overall, the meal plan is mediocre for true beginners without a lick of dietary knowledge.

No calorie- or macro-tracking (red flags galore!).

The Leaderboard

The leaderboard module on the right side of your screen will either taunt you or motivate you.

If outpacing other Athlean-X users and clinching that #1 spot gets your adrenaline pumping, you’ll love logging your OSI challenge times.

If you find it demoralizing to see your fellow Athlean-X’ers can finish an OSI challenge six minutes quicker than you, this module is a constant reminder that you’re still a complete newbie.

And there’s always a guy “beating Ronnie Coleman” or outpacing #2 by a minute or two.

The Inspiration

The OSI program will throw you for a loop if your previous training experience followed strict guidelines (5×5, 3×8, any kind of consistency really).

But we’ll give credit where credit is due: it looks like Jeff Cavaliere — and anyone else behind Old School Iron — researched the old-school bodybuilding standouts.

Cavaliere designed the program around three elites:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger (and his ultra-wide, beefy chest)
  • Dorian Yates (and his rippled back muscles)
  • Tom Platz (and his massive, tree-trunk legs)

In other words, it’s not some forum rando telling you how he bulked up and got ripped in three months. It’s a routine built upon the strategies of three physique legends; yeah, it’s the real deal.

Old School Iron vs. Max Size

Nothing gets the Athlean-X base buzzing quite like comparing two seemingly similar programs. In this case, we’ll pit Old School Iron vs. Max Size.

Is there a difference? And if so, what is it?

If you want to jump into the amateur bodybuilding world feet-first, Old School Iron is like a crash course in fitness, igniting both mass and strength in as little as four months.

On the other hand, Max Size is far more intense, ramping up the volume to levels that would make even the most dedicated novices uneasy.

Max Size is a better alternative if you’re already relatively in shape, can commit to conditioning workouts too, and have an hour to spare for five-times-weekly workouts.

All in all, OSI seems more beginner-friendly!

5 Benefits of Old School Iron

  1. Phase one is a segue into the real thing. Five straight workouts could seem overwhelming if you’re a wannabe athlete, but they’re relatively tame given the circumstances. You’ll be in and out of the gym in as little as 45-60 minutes.
  2. Old-school techniques do work. The most common beginner mistake is doing too much too soon. Cavaliere built this routine around the standout bodybuilding legends, and with rep ranges spanning 5–failure, you’ll remain in the hypertrophy “sweet spot.” If you see the ACSM as the “gold standard,” this routine sandwiches the ideal 8-12 rep range.
  3. Don’t shun full-body workouts. OSI cashes in on what works for true beginners: full-body workouts several times per week. A 2015 randomized controlled trial found that, even in well-trained men, there was little difference in strength growth between those following a split routine vs. a total-body routine. Why do more than you need to?
  4. It actually includes a meal plan. Athlean-X sometimes neglects the dietary aspect. And while the meal plan is a total let-down if you were hoping to perfect your eating habits, it can serve as a guideline to the four-month road ahead. Tip: track your calories and macronutrients in a diet app like MyFitnessPal.
  5. Fills in the weak gaps. Muscle imbalance is pretty much par for the course in this day in age, with a 2013 study discovering that the average person’s chest is 1.5–2.7 stronger than their back. The corrective exercises twice a week can help you infuse the muscles that often pull the short stick, guiding better posture and more equal gains.

3 Negatives of Old School Iron

  1. There’s no refund policy. If you buy this four-month program and realize you’re not up for the task just yet, don’t expect to get your money back. Digital piracy is an understandable concern, but one free workout to experiment with would be a decent idea.
  2. You’re in the dark until you aren’t. This program could tick all of your boxes during days 1–28 but then totally miss the mark every day after that. Unfortunately, that’s not something you’ll realize until you unlock the next phase.
  3. Explanations are lacking. Sure, each workout has an “Instruxions” section. But often, it’ll feel like you’re doing exercises for just one reason: Jeff Cavaliere told you to. To learn why, you have to watch the individual exercise videos and sit through what seems like a PowerPoint lecture for each workout.

Athlean-X Old School Iron Review – Summary

Like most of Athlean-X’s programs, Old School Iron is decent and seems to be a fan favorite amongst platform enthusiasts.

It eases into fitness, bases its routine off the legends, features a meal plan, implements what works (full-body workouts for beginners), and picks up the slack where other routines don’t.

But it has a ways to go.

The lack of a refund policy can be a turn-off, you can’t see further than the phase you’re in, and the routine feels random without further explanation (and the videos aren’t all that engaging).

The pros tip the scales toward “it’s a solid routine.”

If you’re a beginner and chasing gains, it’s worth a try. But keep in mind you’ll need a gym membership (or basic equipment), and you might struggle to hit the demands at first.

Rating: 7.9 out of 10

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