The Best Program for Building Muscle?
For my FOURTEENTH detailed review of Beachbody workouts, I decided to go back in time to complete and review one of the all-time most popular Beachbody exercise programs: super-trainer Joel Freeman‘s LIIFT4, which had an original release date of October 1, 2018. What has made this fitness plan endure for so long, when others have faded from viewer love? Read on to learn the answer and to see my results — plus an honest discussion of the problems with this program. (Cue dramatic music).
LIIFT4 Overview and Calendar
LIIFT4 gets its name because the program is a combination of LIFTING weights and HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training, meaning bursts of cardio calisthenics, and because its calendar runs 4 days a week. As the tagline states: “Lift. HIIT. Rest. Repeat.” Every episode ends with a “Core Component” for abs, which made my 6-pack-loving self exceedingly happy.
The program lasts for 8 weeks, taking 30-40 minutes a day, and has three rest days a week: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. There is also one week (4 videos) of “B4 Lift” with shorter, 20 minute workouts, plus one stretching and one rolling video which run 10 minutes each, and can be repeated as needed. Besides those two stretching videos, no other episodes are repeated, meaning you get fresh content (and new corny jokes) each time.
Equipment Needed for LIIFT4:
The equipment needed for LIIFT4 consists of a wide range of dumbbells, and a squishy mat in order to cushion your back for the many ab exercises. If you want a less expensive and bulky (but slightly more awkward) option than weights, you can use resistance bands instead of dumbbells for the program, and clicking the “MOD” button in the lower right of each video will bring up a split screen with the band modifications.
Because you ideally want the full range of dumbbells from 5 to 25 pounds for women (and an even wider range for men), it’s very tempting to use adjustable dumbbells for this program to save space. That said, I found by MX-55s to be only a so-so match for LIIFT4, given that standard dumbbells are easier to use for most of the lifts.
Is LIIFT4 Hard?
Despite being labeled “Intermediate,” LIIFT4 is quite fast-paced, with little wasted time, though the moves are quite simple and straightforward. There is always a modifier, but some viewers may want to modify further. We will dive more into the difficulty level of this program in the Pros and Cons section.
Why Trust This LIIFT4 Review?
Before we get to the Pros and Cons of LIIFT4, it’s important for you to know why this review is honest: I am not affiliated with Beachbody in any way, and I am NOT a “Beachbody Coach,” meaning that I have zero financial incentive in whether or not you choose to do this workout program. I am simply a middle school teacher who gets her stress relief by doing online workouts, and enjoys writing about them in geeky detail to help readers pick the workout plan that works best for YOU.
As background, I’m 40 years old and mother to two young children. I’m at a high Intermediate fitness level, and do have a history of knee problems from my years as a college high jumper, which means I often add modifications when doing streaming fitness programs in order to reduce impact. On that subject, do make sure you use wise judgment when starting any new exercise program in order to prevent injury: listen to your body, take it slow, and consult a doctor if necessary. Ready for the review now? Let’s go!
Positives of LIIFT4:
Though as you’ll see in the “Problems” section, I had some issues with LIIFT4, overall enjoyed many elements of it. Here is my summary of the “Pros” of the program.
1. Little wasted time, yet not overly rushed.
Unlike very chatty programs like Beachbody “645” which feature stretches of idle time with no movement, LIIFT4 wastes very little time. The warm-up starts within the first 30 seconds of pressing play, and the explanations of each move are done efficiently, and much of the form coaching is done during the exercise. As Joel says, “You don’t have time to check your social media between sets here — we get it all done in a short time!”
Part of what helps LIIFT4 save time is that it’s one of the few programs where the trainer does NOT work out with the cast. This means that Joel can walk around and coach form, and doesn’t need to take breaks to catch his breath (like Autumn when she collapses on the ground in exhaustion during “9 Week Control Freak,” for example).
Though LIIFT4 is efficiently paced, I didn’t find it as rushed as “Job 1,” which was a relief because the pace of “Job 1” left me injured in the end. In contrast, LIIFT4 is methodical but forward-moving, meaning there’s less chance of injury. Speaking of less injury risk, there’s another positive of the program…
2. Less injury risk due to simple moves and little twisting.
The exercises in LIIFT4 are very basic and straightforward: Bicep Curl, Chest Press, Goblet Sumo, etc. Though I’ll discuss later why this simplicity could be seen as a negative, the positive aspect of it is that it means the program generally has a lower risk of injury.
There are almost no compound moves (moves with two parts), and there are almost no twisting movements. In contrast, the supposedly “Beginner” level Beachbody program, “21 Day Fix,” has several twisting and kneeling moves early on which have a much higher risk of injury than non-twisty LIIFT4. Modifications are also offered in LIIFT4 for many exercises, taking out the impact or reducing difficulty. The predictable structure and moves also make it less mentally challenging.
3. Big RESULTS, especially arms and abs.
If you’re looking for a program to build muscle and increase general fitness, this is it! I got seriously visible results from LIIFT4, especially in my abs and arms. Doing the “Core Component” every episode meant I quickly begin to see 6-pack definition, especially in my upper core.
Meanwhile, given the intense emphasis on upper-body weightlifting in the program, it’s not surprise that my biceps and shoulders started to ripple with definition within a few weeks. (The only other program that gave me such good arm results was the “Muscle Burns Fat” and #mbfa combo.)
Because you do the same exercises over and over each week (albeit in different orders), the weight tracker sheet makes much more sense in this program than in others, and there’s a marked sense of accomplishment as you see your dumbbell amount go up and up. LIIFT4 is a deeply satisfying program in terms of getting fitness results and seeing progress.
4. Funny, lighthearted banter and jokes.
Unlike programs with long, heartfelt motivational speeches, the vibe in LIIFT4 is decidedly lighthearted and fun. Joel is a happy “Bro” who cracks jokes and doesn’t take himself too seriously. The ongoing joke is about how hard he’s working, even though he’s usually not doing more than one rep with the cast.
Other running gags include how the “shirts are falling off” of the well-muscled men in the cast. Some moments are corny, but I did find myself smiling and giggling more often than not during LIIFT4 — which makes the exercises fly by!
5. Weight amounts frequently stated.
Finally — a program that states what weight amount different cast members are using! I find this information pivotal in picking my own weight progression, because you quickly learn which cast member has a comparable fitness level to you, and follow their lead. This is also a benefit of LIIFT4 having a larger cast: there is a range of strength levels modeled.
6. Variety in workout styles and strength training plus cardio.
As one would expect in a program that is a combination of lifting and HIIT, LIIFT4 provides a pretty well-rounded combination of muscle building and cardio for results that boost your overall fitness. Each day focuses on a different muscle group, and even on days when the muscle focus is upper body, the HIIT moves hit the lower body, too. Though there’s no overall on-screen timer, many of the HIIT moves do use a countdown on the screen, which I always enjoy.
Though the same exercises are more or less repeated each week, Joel switches up the style of workout they’re in, as well as their order. The styles of workouts are: Circuit (pure lifting), LIIFT 50/50 (half lifting then half HIIT), Intervals (switching between lifting and HIIT), and pure HIIT (no lifting). I enjoyed having the no-impact Circuit days (didn’t need to strap on my double sports bra), and the weight-free pure HIIT days were useful for travel.
7. Three rest days mean LIIFT4 is perfect for non-screen hybrids.
Don’t get me wrong: you will NEED all three rest days to recover from the heavy lifting and HIIT during LIIFT4 (I was sorer from this program than I’ve been for any other), but having all that time off means LIIFT4 is ideal for pairing with non-screen exercise like long walks, biking, dance, or yoga. I spent most of my rest days talking deliciously long walks around Jamaica Pond in Boston. Especially as the weather gets nicer, it’s great to have a program that only ties you to the screen four days a week.
Problems with LIIFT4:
Ok, you’ve heard the positives — now it’s time to honestly dish about the many issues I had with LIIFT4. I’d actually started this program years ago and quit halfway, so returning to it now made me remember the problems I saw before. Let’s explore them.
A. LIIFT4 is way too arm-focused.
I am a woman and I do not want to look like an upside-down pyramid, thank you very much! There is SO much arm emphasis in LIIFT4 that I repeatedly had to modify the third sets to include some sort of lower-body work (ex: squats). Yes, the HIIT covers some leg power, but I didn’t see nearly the glue and quad results from LIIFT4 as I saw in other programs.
If you are a man, I think the aims of this program might be more up your alley, but I have specific visual fitness aims that mesh more with Autumn Calabrese’s female-centered programs — programs like #9WCF which make sure that every single episode has some glue and leg work. Sorry, Joel, but I do not need EIGHTY bicep curls in one day (followed by a bicep burnout)?!
B. Overly symmetrical, meaning less functional fitness.
After doing Beachbody’s “645” with Amoila Cesar which focus on “functional fitness” and features twisting, stopping and starting, and “primal animal movements” like crawls and crouches, I can see how LIIFT4 completely misses the boat on preparing you for the muscle movements you might actually need in life.
Because almost every exercise in LIIFT4 is symmetrical, your body does not get a chance to develop the stabilizing muscles as much. Megan Davies’s newer program, “Muscle Burns Fat” #mbf, directly addresses that by making a lifting (and cardio) program that explicitly guides you into asymmetrical moves.
C. Pace and volume are INTENSE.
I took more “unauthorized” extra rest days during LIIFT4 than I did with any other program — including a several-year break! I’m a very motivated exerciser and this is not like me, so I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think the reason is that the pace and volume of LIIFT4 can be very intense. Three sets of arm moves add up quickly, some of the workouts are close to 40 minutes instead of 30, and the HIIT is sometimes so energetic and bouncy (even with modifications) that I felt I didn’t have it in me.
Further, the pace of the HIIT moves modeled by the cast is almost dangerously fast. They usually did each cardio move at double or triple my pace, and I’m at a high Intermediate level. I would urge you to listen to your own body for pacing and modifications, as there is a lot of jumping in LIIFT4 (ex: 180 Squat Jumps) which was not great for my knee. I should have modified sooner than I did to take out the impact.
D. Somewhat odd cast dynamics.
My all-time favorite Beachbody cast was “6 Weeks of the Work,” where all cast members wear a full microphone so you can really get to know their wonderful personalities and accomplishments. In contrast, you get glimpses into the minds of the large LIIFT4 cast, but never really understand their personas, despite awkward video interviews of them sitting in a circle. Joel also has some odd moments of objectifying the shirtless men which were a bit cringey!
E. Moves and triple repeat get repetitive.
Repeating each move THREE times gets tedious, I’m not going to lie. I far prefer the Beachbody programs which feature two times through each move. Further, LIIFT4 repeats the same exercises week after week (with small ramp-ups), so there isn’t a huge variety to spice things up.
F. You will be SORE.
If you do LIIFT4 as designed, your muscles will be SORE the next day. (This could also be a positive of the program, as you know it’s working.) Make sure to actually take the rest days, because that’s the important time when your muscles are growing. If you’re a person like me who enjoys doing double workouts or speeding up the pace of a program by eliminating rest days, LIIFT4 laughs at your plans for that and scoffs, “Don’t even try.”
G. LIIFT4 has no music.
This may be a pro or con, depending on your preferences, but unlike “Morning Meltdown 100” or #mbf, LIIFT4 has no music — just a steady stream of corny jokes. If you prefer to just have your own music on in the background, this could be fine. Given the weird video game music pumped into “645,” no music may be a better option — but I’ll never forget how motivated the original music in “Muscle Burns Fat” and “Let’s Get Up” made me, so I was missing it in LIIFT4.
LIIFT4 vs. Other Beachbody Programs:
How does LIIFT4 compare with other Beachbody on Demand programs? Here’s a detailed compare and contrast with all the ones I’ve done. (You can click through to any to see my longer review of each.
“645” vs. LIIFT4
“Beachbody 645” with Amoila Cesar focuses on “functional movement,” meaning there are some strange and twisty moves that mimic the actual stresses you need your body to be prepared for on an everyday basis. Though “645” drove me crazy with how chatty and long it is (45 minutes a day, 6 days a week, for 13 weeks), it is extremely effective in teaching you how your body works, and coaching it to perform at peak. I’d recommend “645” over LIIFT4 for this teaching element, but if you can’t stomach the length or slower pace of it, LIIFT4 is for you.
“Muscle Burns Fat” vs. LIIFT4
“Muscle Burns Fat” #mbf and #mbfa are two of my all-time favorite programs on Beachbody on Demand. I strongly recommend them, and think in many ways they are a better version of LIIFT4. For example, they help build your stabilizing muscles through asymmetrical movements (whereas LIIFT4 is ultra symmetrical), and they have a strong focus on both upper and lower body (while LIIFT4 is mostly upper). Oh, and #mbf and #mbfa have great music, too, not to mention a delightful trainer and cast!
“21 Day Fix” vs. LIIFT4
“21 Day Fix” with Autumn Calabrese is the classic “first Beachbody program” for beginners to online fitness. Its tagline is “simple, not easy,” and it features a very well-rounded set of exercises (from weights, to cardio, to yoga and pilates) for 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week, over 3 weeks. I’d recommend “21DF” as a first BOD program for women, and LIIFT4 as a first or second BOD program for men, simply given the muscle results of each.
“9 Week Control Freak” vs. LIIFT4
I got amazing results from “9 Week Control Freak” with Autumn Calabrese, but it has extremely complicated compound moves and requires a ridiculous amount of equipment, so most people will prefer LIIFT4. That said, there is a simpler version of #9WCF called “Off the Wall” which you can try if you don’t want to buy the Control Track, step, and ball, and I enjoyed that, too. It’s well-rounded and fun.
“4 Weeks for Every Body” vs. LIIFT4
I’m in the middle of reviewing “4 Weeks for Every Body,” so subscribe and check back soon for my take on this new, no-impact program from Autumn Calabrese! (May 2020 update: My “4 Weeks for Every Body” review is now up, with a section comparing it to LIIFT4.)
“30 Day Breakaway” and “Let’s Get Up” vs. LIIFT4
“30 Day Breakaway” is Beachbody’s running program (building you up to running a 5k by combining resistance training and interval runs), and “Let’s Get Up” is the new Shaun T dance program. Both are so specific in focus that I think you know already whether you’re more interested in running, dance, or LIIFT4 (classic weightlifting and HIIT). I could see “Let’s Get Up” being a perfect hybrid with LIIFT4, since the dance would loosen you up well after all Joel’s lifting.
“The Prep” and “The Work” vs. LIIFT4
I absolutely loved “The Work” because Amoila Cesar is amazing, but the program is HARD, and you should only do it if you’ve done several programs successfully already, and are fully comfortable making your own modifications, since it has no modifier. I found “6 Weeks of the Work” more fun and motivating than LIIFT4 — it even has swears! — but your preferences may very. Meanwhile, I don’t recommend “The Prep” at all because it was filmed in a rush after “The Work” and is awkward and disjointed.
“Job 1” vs. LIIFT4
I just completed “Job 1” with Jennifer Jacobs — 20 minutes a day of full-body weights and cardio over 4 weeks — and didn’t love it, though I thought I would. Despite its short time frame, it actually poses a higher risk of injury since it’s somewhat rushed and there’s no cast, so no clear modifier. I would probably recommend LIIFT4 over “Job 1” unless you are absolutely diligent with adding your own modifications and going slower than the trainer if needed.
“80 Day Obsession” vs. LIIFT4
Though I got amazing full-body results with “80 Day Obsession” with Autumn Calabrese, I don’t recommend it to anyone but the most hardcore fitness folks, as it has a high risk of injury due to its strange moves. Of the two programs, LIIFT4 is the safer bet.
LIIFT4 in Sum:
In conclusion, I would recommend LIIFT4 for all men, and for women who don’t mind upper body focus — or are comfortable modifying to add in more lower body moves. I just would caution any exerciser to do more functional fitness programs like #mbf or “645” before and after LIIFT4 to ensure you’re developing your body’s everyday stability.
So what about you? If you’ve done LIIFT4, what was your experience? Do you agree or disagree with this review’s honest analysis? If you haven’t done LIIFT4, what remaining questions do you have? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!