Wednesday, April 8, 2015

PROGRAM DESIGN: HOW I DESIGN A TRAINING PROGRAM



SPECIAL EARLY RELASE: I want people to really think about what is written here, come up with their own ideas and do some discussion, so you get your article early this week.


It dawned on me that, no matter how “different” I think a program is when I write it, they all boil down to the same principles.  My intent here is to share the guiding principles that are at play whenever I train, such that anyone who wishes to employ my technique can design their own program.  As with everything in life, nothing here is set in stone, and things are constantly in flux and changing, but this is at least a basic template one could employ in order to vector their training.

 

Each training day boils down to 4 phases within the training day: Get stronger/better, get bigger/stronger, get healthy, and get tougher.  The first and the fourth phase tend to only include 1 movement, and in most cases just 1 set, while phases 2 and 3 tend to be where the majority of time is spent.  A typical training day ranges anywhere between 60-80 minutes.  If there are any questions, write a comment.

 

Phase 1: Get stronger/get better




The first movement of the program is our primary goal for the training session that day.  This movement can break down to 1 of 2 primary purposes: getting stronger, or getting better.  I’ve written extensively on this topic in the past, but to reiterate, we are focusing either on grinding a movement and exerting ourselves as much as possible (getting stronger) or improving technique in order to move more weight (getting better).  Both will still pose a challenging workout, but they take different avenues.

 

If the goal is to get stronger, pick a movement that one has relative mastery over (something simple is ideal here, like a squat, bench, deadlift, etc) and work up to 1-3 heavy sets.  Anywhere from the 3-10 rep range works here.  The goal is to really grind, push, exert, and employ effort.  You should see stars and your hearing should go out during the absolute peak of these movements. 

 

In order to prevent burnout, I cycle the movements on these days (either using ROM progression or different implements, such as an axle, log, keg, sandbag, etc).  Doing the exact same thing every week for multiple weeks tends to not work out so well, and since the goal here is strength instead of skill, there is no concern about “falling out of the groove” between weeks.  This movement is about learning to strain above all else, and teaching the body how to call in all the muscles it needs and brace as hard as possible in order to accomplish this.

 

If the goal is getting better, pick the movement you want to improve and focus more on maintaining ideal/improved technique.  In these instances, it’s still good to go heavy, as technique differs with a heavy weight versus a light weight, but you don’t want to strain to the point that you have tunnel vision.  Use rest periods liberally, train for a set amount of time versus a set amount of reps/sets, set up event medley’s, etc.  This is especially easy to map if you have a specific contest coming up, as you can simply set up this movement as it will be performed in the contest and perform 1-3 rounds of the event. 

 

You should still get a decent workout from the skill based training, but more likely it will tax your cardio and get you a pump versus shorting out your CNS. 


Here is an example of a "get stronger" movement


https://youtu.be/dJhjEyyOark


And this would be a "get better" workout




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTe7YL1fJ9U


Phase 2: Get stronger/get bigger

 

The second series of movements of the day is designed to support/compensate for the first movement of the day.  No matter what you did for the first movement, you want to use this opportunity to get bigger, BUT, if you trained to get better for the first movement, ensure you use this opportunity to also get stronger.

 

Getting stronger is once again a fairly simple approach.  Here, we don’t need to exert maximal effort like we did with movement once, but still want to push some fairly heavy weights.  The 6-10 rep range for a big compound lift works well here, anywhere from 3-5 sets.  You can either pick a movement that mimics what you trained for lift 1 (ie: DB bench for movement 2 supporting Bench press for movement 1) or utilize something with similar muscles but a different plane of movement (ie: swiss bar overhead press supporting bench press, a squat for a deadlift, etc).

 

For getting bigger, we’re going to employ a more “bodybuilder-esque” approach for the assistance work.  Movements selected will be less directly analogous to the first movement of the day and instead be movements that specifically build up the muscles involved in the first movement.  If today was a squat day, we could use glute ham raises, reverse hypers, ab work, pull throughs, kettlebell swings, leg presses, lunges, etc etc.  Basically, a lot of movements wherein it would be unreasonable to train them as a strength movement, but still contribute toward making one stronger.  You can still go heavy here, like with a reverse hyper, or light, like with lateral raises, but the goal is not to push the most weight but to stimulate muscles and get a pump.  Focus more on feeling the muscle and improving the areas you need to improve and less on how much weight is on the bar or beating PRs from the previous weeks.


Some "get stronger" work


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPu-xh6uTTw


Some "get bigger" work


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6Ft15yZavc

Phase 3: Get healthy

This is where a lot of filler work goes, the stuff that needs to get done but no one gets really excited about.  Band pull aparts, ab work, pre/re-hab, etc.  There will sometimes be overlaps here between the “get bigger” movements and these, and don’t be too worried if you get a pump while doing these, but the point here is less about making things bigger and more about keeping the body in a state where it can continue to train.

 

For personal examples, my right shoulder/labrum is pretty much hamburger, and if I don’t keep up rear delt work I get in pain pretty quick, so I’m constantly hitting up band pull aparts in my upper body training.  Additionally, I am fairly certain I have some undiagnosed herniated discs in my neck, and if I don’t use a neck harness regularly it starts to act up, so this is a good place to train the movement.  Other folks might use this to do some mobility work, rotator cuff work, etc. 


Here is an example video of getting healthy


Some examples of "getting healthy"


https://youtu.be/83DBRilawig




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpy2RSXA8dU


Phase 4: Get tougher

 

We save this for last, because after this you’ll have nothing left.  Whereas everything up until this point was meant to improve us physically, this is meant to improve us mentally.  For this portion of the workout, we’re going to pick something that absolutely sucks to do yet still has some similar qualities with the main goal of the day.

 

Examples include

 

20 rep breathing squats
Squat drop sets
Heavy yoke walks
Farmer’s carry with straps (no chance of dropping implement)
Sandbag/keg carry for distance/time
Bench burnouts/drop sets
Etc

 

It’s not that difficult.  Push past your comfort zone, use a lot of intensity amplifiers (drop sets, forced reps, rest pause, short rest periods, etc) and get smoked.  You should basically be crawling away from the gym after this.  Creativity is highly encouraged, as there is really no wrong way to go about this.  This is also an excellent opportunity to sneak in some strongman training/conditioning if you have an upcoming contest, with medleys being awesome for making life terrible.

 

You’ll note that this is the final movement of the day.  The reason for this is two-fold.  1: after you perform this movement, you should have no energy left for any other sort of training.  2: already being in a state of fatigue will mean that you need less weight to elicit the desired outcome, which should hopefully put you at less risk for injury/burnout.

 

The “get tougher” portion will also function to meet the goals of getting bigger, better and stronger too (as do really all movements in the program, nothing exists in a vacuum), but the goal is really about just pushing past one’s comfort zone.  Your breathing should be labored, your muscles should burn, and you should wonder why you choose to do this for a hobby.




Some "get tougher" exercises


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdDs9jtrbK8


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPDBflCl3-I


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KkvrVq_0CM

 

*Hacks

Since I train at home, I have a bit more liberty in how I go about training, and have utilized the following approaches to cram as much as I can into my training in as little time as possible.  The key here is that nothing is too rigid or structured: we approach training with a basic idea, but the execution is less relevant than simply meeting the goals.

-Alternating movements/supersets:

I am a big fan in alternating between my “get stronger” and “get bigger/healthier” movements when I train, especially if I’m working opposite muscle groups in doing so.  I find it helps to speed up my recovery and keep blood flowing while I train, and also helps me squeeze in more training in a shorter amount of time.  Band pull aparts work incredibly well here, throwing them in between sets of just about everything on upperbody days, but I also like doing this with heavier back movements (lat pulldown, rows, chins, etc).

 

Ideally, you do want to use a movement that isn’t going to interfere with the recovery of your larger movements.  Supersetting bench press with band pushdowns may prove ineffective, whereas bicep curls shouldn’t have too negative of an impact.  You can either perform the movements immediately following each other or rest a little in between each.  The key is to not get stuck in the mindset of “now I am training strength and later I am training size”, but instead realize that the goal is to hit all the movements at some point in the workout. 


-Giant sets

 

Giant sets are similar to supersets, we’re just throwing in a greater number of movements.  This is an effective way to include a lot of “get bigger” work in the program, or to combine the “get stronger” “get bigger” and “get healthier” portions all in one.  An example would be if we were doing dumbbell benching to get stronger, we could follow the set with some chin ups and then follow the chin ups with some band pull aparts.  You can rest between movements or follow one immediately after the other, resting at the end of the giant set.  Once again, this is just about squeezing in more work in less time.    

 

-Volume/fatigue accumulation

 

Whereas the first two methods mentioned were about squeezing in more work in less time, this is more about getting a certain amount of reps in without affecting recovery.  You’re still going to be training movements in between other movements with this approach, but the goal here is to NOT go to failure with the second movement, and instead just get a few reps in.  We’re working toward a total amount of reps by the end of the workout with this approach.

 

An example would be if, in between every exercise on our upperbody day, we throw in 3 chin ups.  Depending on how many exercises we have (and warm-ups), we could pretty easily work up to 50-60 reps in this fashion, while at the same time remaining fresh to hit other movements.

 

Additionally, if one still wants to elicit a pump effect from this training, we can spend the entire training day performing 1 movement in between all other movements, and then at the end of the training day perform 1 all out set, aiming for as many reps as possible.  We will be in a fatigued state at this point, which will mean we require fewer reps to get our desired result, but still be able to push ourselves and leave feeling pumped.

 

An example of this approach would be if we performed 3 reps of dumbbell rows between every exercise, and then at the very end performed 1 all out set of kroc rows with each arm. 


If you have any questions, let me know.

 

4 comments:

  1. Nice write up man a lot to think about/tweak from a abstract approach. My Inzer 10mm lever arrived and it is one beastly belt. The back is "bulletproof" thanks for your help.

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    1. Outstanding news on the belt. Hope it brings you many years of PRs.

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  2. Great write-up, a lot of good thoughts and things I can apply as a fellow home gym strongman guy.

    Will

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    Replies
    1. Very awesome. Glad you appreciated it. We're definitely a different breed, haah.

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