Odds are if you’ve spent any time researching the workout programs that exist today, you’ve probably come across hundreds of contrasting methods or beliefs. In this fitness world choosing a workout program is a highly debated topic between coaches, students and those infamous internet trolls! This is a debate that will continue well beyond our time on this planet, so let’s focus on what we can do to help ourselves when it comes to programming! In this article you will find some quick tips to help you write and develop your own workout program that will generate results if followed correctly.
KNOW YOUR SCHEDULE
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client tell me that they want to run a certain program that is set up as a four day program and then because of their schedules demands they are only able to make it to the gym two times in a particular week. As a result, they either skip workouts within the week or shuffle the program around and turn a beneficial program into a detrimental program. The programs you often read about such as 5/3/1, PHAT, etc. are set up in a specific way in order to provide you with the most optimal results, by varying the programs you are often times making these programs less effective. Now before you get all defensive, and tell me” everyone misses a work out here and there”, you are correct. The fact still remains that you shouldn’t set yourself up with a four day a week program if you know a majority of the time you won’t make it to your facility four times. If you miss a work out here and there for unforeseen circumstances, so be it, just don’t set yourself up for failure from the start! When you decide to write your own program, decide realistically how many days per week you will be able to work out. Once you’ve come up with that number you have the starting point to your program.
KNOW YOUR GOALS
No matter which sport you are training for, you need to know what your goals are and train in order to achieve them. All strength athletes should train in order to improve in their specific field. In other words, football players should focus their programming around exercises that will improve them as an athlete on the football field and bodybuilders should focus their programming around exercises that will build muscle and symmetry to help them on stage. Many athletes get lost along the way when setting up their training programs because they have too many major goals. If you don’t have a specific goal but simply want to be an all-around athlete then you can set your program up to fit many categories but if you have a true desire to become better at a specific sport/event then you need to set your goals to accomplish that desire.
If you are a powerlifter you should focus your programming on Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. All other assistance work will have its place in your program, but you shouldn’t train assistance work exclusively if you truly want to improve your big three. The same can be said for a powerlifter throwing in tons of bodybuilder exercises such as bicep curls and calf raises. Sure they can be implemented into your program for vanity reasons, but remember your goals and focus on the big three!
Another example, you’re a defensive lineman looking to improve your football skills. You should focus your workout program around explosive exercises. Some of these exercises may include deadlift, cleans, snatch, bench press, squat and sprints. Although you may want to look pretty, bicep curls won’t do too much for you as far as performance goes, so don’t spend too much time on that particular exercise.
The point of knowing your goals isn’t to tell you that you can’t be a well-rounded athlete. It’s to drive home that point that if you have a specific goal, you need to do everything in your power to reach that goal and do everything you can to avoid being sidetracked! Remember, you can also have the goal of “well rounded athlete”, just set your program up accordingly and as always, bust your ass day in and day out!
ADDRESS WEAK POINTS
How often do you hear someone say, “I hate squats” or “I hate barbell lunges” or “I hate [insert any tough exercise here]”? All the time? Thought so! Most people don’t hate exercises because of the ergonomics of a lift like they claim, they hate a certain lift because THEY SUCK AT IT. If there is a certain lift you find yourself disliking, take a step back and ask yourself whether you hate the exercise for the appropriate reasons or whether you hate it because you’re being a gigantic full grown baby.
The truth is, every athlete has a weakness. Whether you a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or a baseball player you’ll come to realize that you have weaknesses in which you can improve upon. The hard part is determining your real weaknesses and addressing them properly. Most athletes think about weak points and say “I’m weak out of the hole” or “I’m weak off the floor” what they fail to realize is that weaknesses go beyond the different portions of the lift. You must consider your weakness beyond strength. These weaknesses include, but are not limited to; technique, power, explosion, energy, endurance and tactical skill.
The best way to improve your weak points is to consider the sport or activity you are looking to improve. From there you need to identify a wide array of weaknesses. I’d suggest 5-10 areas for simple sports, and 10+ for more advanced training activities such as Cross Fit or strongman competitions. Instead of focusing on one glaring weakness like most athletes do, focus on a variety and try to improve all of them by small percentages over a period of time. In most cases, improving multiple weaknesses by a smaller percentage will transfer to your athletic achievements more so than improving one weakness by a large percentage.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training. In my opinion this is the single most important factor when setting up your workout program. There are many factors to consider in regards to progressive overload and many ways to achieve progressive overload. I’ll touch on a few.
Factors to consider
- Progressive overload will never be as fun or easy as it during your first few months of working out. You will find early on in your training you are able to make drastic jumps in weights, reps, sets, etc. This eventually slows down and you will need to adjust accordingly. DO NOT get discouraged. Stay the course and work hard!
- Progressive overload is not linear. The way your body responds or adapts to training (whether it is hypertrophy training, strength trainings, or sport specific training) is never in a straight line. You will see that you will adapt in waves or spurts. You need to realize that athletic training in most cases is a marathon and not a sprint. If you looked at dedicated athletes strength increases (while using progressive overload/ Athletic performance line graph) you will notice that there are many plateaus, but there will also be a line of steady increase in performance from left to right over time. Very rarely will you see a decline in any performance category if progressive overload is approached correctly. What this means is that some weeks you may be able to make jumps of 15 pounds, or a 5 rep increase per set but there will be weeks where you can only add 1 rep or change other variables minimally. Once again, don’t be discouraged, stick with the plan! As long as you are overloading the muscles in one form or another you will be successful.
How to achieve progressive overload –Variables you can change
- Rest Time
- Total Volume (i.e. reps, set)
- Number of Exercises Performed
When most people think of progressive overload they usually focus on weight and volume. When designing your program you should try to include other variables from the list above. Tempo (or time under tension) and frequency are two of my favorite variables to tinker with when designing programs.
The term “over training” gets thrown around the fitness world all too often, but it can be a real issue. I’ve seen it time and again where someone says they were at the gym for two hours and the cliché reply is that they are over training. The truth is, you could probably spend four hours in the gym for a single session and have no negative impact on your training. The real over training comes from a buildup of stressors on your central nervous system over a period of time, not one day (typically). Your central nervous system typically does very well keeping up with the stressors you apply to it, but once it reaches the point of being genuinely fatigued or overworked it will hit you like a ton of bricks. Typical signs of an overworked CNS in regards to fitness are constant fatigue, plateauing or regression in strength training, lack of motivation, and many other things.
Most athletes when focusing on stress of the CNS only consider the stress from the strength exercises they are performing. The CNS recognizes “stress” not “weights lifted or sprint performed”. You must also consider every day stressors such as nutrition, sleep, family problems, work issues, etc..
So how does one go about saving their CNS? Incorporate DELOADS! For those of you who are unfamiliar with deloads, this simply means to take a break from excessively strenuous training. Outdate training methodologies used to have athletes taking a week off after an arbitrary amount of time training. Although this methodology can still work in terms of distressing the CNS, there are much better ways to deload. The problem with taking time off from the gym completely as a deload is that you lose neurological adaptation or “the feel” for performing exercises during your time off. This can lead to technique breakdown upon your return to the gym and set you back instead of stepping you forward.
I recommend not taking time off but rather getting in to the gym as you always do but reducing volume, intensity or both. Although there is not exact way to deload, I recommend cutting your lift percentages to 60% and cutting your daily volume in half. By doing deloads in this manner, you won’t lose the adaptation you’ve spent so long building and you’ll be reloaded and ready to go the following week! There is also no time frame on when you should deload. Many respected programs commonly call for a deload every 6-8 weeks.
One last thing to consider is that you shouldn’t wait until you feel run down to deload. By this point it is already too late! The purpose of deloading is keeping your CNS fresh so you don’t become rundown in the first place! Remember a common fitness quote in regards to recovery “Deload to reload!”
SCHEDULE PERFORMANCE TESTING
This one is pretty straight forward. You need to schedule testing in your program to determine the progress you are making and if changes are necessary. This does not mean that you should attempt one rep maxes each week and say you were simply “performance testing”. Remember, your program should bet set up to improve your 1RM not to attempt a new 1RM constantly. If you are repeatedly attempting 1RM then you are taking away from time that could be spent improving. How often you should schedule performance testing will vary, but I’d recommend running a program for a minimum of 6 weeks before any 100% single rep max effort exercises are performed.
FOLLOW THE PLAN
Far too many athletes program hop far too often. Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint (Inset sprinter joke here)! Let your program work its magic and have faith! You will not see results over night even from the most respected programs in existence. Believe in the program that you put together for yourself, log your work outs to keep track of your performance, and most of all develop the mind set of kicking ass an taking names each time out! Who knows, someday people may be following your programs! We all start somewhere. Good luck!