One of my favorite things to do is write training programs. Like most coaches or personal trainers, I also love trying a bunch of different programs that I write, but that typically doesn’t work in my (our) favor. Over the years, the more that I’ve also wanted to reach some of my physical goals I’ve had to stop being my own test dummy. Instead, I’ve had to position concepts or theories I want to try within the programs I write for my athletes. This might not be as quick, but the feedback is always more accurate. Developing a training program is something I pride myself in. Not because it’s so technical or advanced but because it’s a canvas. It’s always my hope that when an athlete receives a program they work through it with care. They give me feedback in terms of what worked well for them and what they’d prefer to change. This is always an open conversation since starting off any program is only a variation of a past program that I feel suits that athlete best based on their goals and current situation.
I understand that not everyone wants to go into the gym with a specific program and do specific exercises. To each their own. But, if you desire to make serious progress with your strength or with your physique I highly encourage you to have some sort of plan.
Exercise vs Training Program
Many people that find me on social media or through a friend have never participated in an actual training program. For the majority of those people they just view “training” as “exercise”. And for some people, this might be all they ever want to do. (totally fine). Exercise is fun and is good for your health. The difference though is that “exercise” doesn’t require my professional flare. The difference in my programs and exercise is that my programming has a purpose.
A training program can’t be a mix of random exercises each week. That would be exercise, not a program. The design of the exercises, their order and their sets/reps make up the plan and in the strength and conditioning world we call that periodization. This program design (periodization) ensures that continual progress will be made over the course of time. The progress will be determined by someone’s goals.
The athletes I work with all have some sort of physique based goal….they want to look better. =) So, while some of great benefits to any of my training programs are overall better health, improvement in cholesterol, lipids and other blood panels, endurance and bone density, the overarching goal is to improve body composition (i.e. lose body fat & gain muscle).
In order to so that you have to become stronger. In order to become stronger you have to become efficient at the lift. Your body has to adapt. These adaptations start on the neurological level (in your brain) with learning movement patterns. This is why when I write programs the exercises do not change from week to week. Even the smallest variation (for example, high bar back squat to low bar back squat) can totally change your body’s ability to perform a movement efficiently. Your brain has to learn that movement pattern. There is absolutely NO BENEFIT to “confusing your muscles”. This likely makes you sore. Well, soreness not only does not correlate to any progress, but it’s not even a “good thing” because it means your body is having to recover. We all love “feeling like we did something”, but just keep in mind if you literally can’t move after each training session you likely aren’t performing at optimal efforts in each session. Your body should have time to recover so you can actually give it all you got each time to step into the gym!
Which brings me to my next point….
I’ve heard from beginners that they get bored after about 4 weeks into a program. This tells me that they’re focusing more on the type of exercise and not what they should be trying to achieve with that exercise. Each time you have the opportunity to perform an exercise think of it as a chance to get better. To not just move more weight or do another rep, but move it more effectively. I personally, never write a program that doesn’t push the athlete toward progressive overload in some fashion. Even if an exercise isn’t listed with more sets or reps, the direction is to always push the envelop in terms of volume by utilizing drop sets, rest pause sets or AMRAP sets.
Words of Warning
If you’re ever following a training program written for you, but you feel like you could do more at the end of a session ask yourself if you’re truly following the program as it’s written.
Are you just exercising hard, breaking a sweat or feeling out of breath? Is there a chance you’re only exercising but not”training”? Maybe you’re not training at a high enough intensity to trigger adaptation in the form of strength gainzzz? Are you contracting your muscles with every single rep?
For example, most of the time, the listed sets can not possibly be completed using the same weight because the weight you could do for 10 reps on the first set at an RPE of 9 you couldn’t do on the 3rd set with the same RPE. So, it’s important be sure you’re making the appropriate adjustments with each set.
Don’t count your warm-up/feeder sets as true sets. Sometimes, when learning a new program or movement this means doing a set that you think is work, but on about rep 5-6 you know that it’s not heavy enough to truly call a work set by rep 10 so just stop, rest a bit to catch your breath and then choose a heavier weight to truly perform your working set. Shoulder presses for example, maybe you are doing 30lbs for 10 reps and you realized that it’s not truly getting you to 1 rep short of failure. Try the 35s. If you can only do 1 set of 10 with the 35s before you have to drop back to the 30s, that’s fine. That’s what I want you to do in order to truly work on every listed set.
You might feel like you can do more at the end of the workout bc you really only performed 1-2 work sets for each move. Ya know? Could this be the case? I find it happens most on pressing movements and leg day. You don’t want to get tired warming up, but adjusting to the exercise order and listed reps might mean you have to “play” with the weights being used in order to work at the intensity the program is designed.
I definitely want every athlete using one of my programs to feel like they’re working hard and effectively! I don’t want them to dread going to the gym, but I want to teach them the reasons why their program is designed a particular way.
The better you are as a lifter, the better your physical progress will be. You have to find joy in the process in order to stick with it for the long haul. I always ask for feedback when it’s time for a program update and I always encourage athletes to share videos of their training sessions so I can critique and review. If you want to get better. You will take the steps to do so.