I’ve written before how much I despise the “rate my program” phenomenon on the internet, and that hasn’t changed. However, what I want to discuss today is one of the more annoying sub facets of this situation; that people don’t understand the difference between a routine and a program. You can typically tell someone has failed before even reading the post, because you open it up and it’s 4 lines long with a list of bodyparts, sets and reps…and that’s it. That’s no program; it’s a list. It’s simply a routine; a thing you do day in and day out. Programs are more; they are systematic, a plan with a goal that is to be achieved. Your routine is a part of your program, but your routine is NOT a program.
Sisyphus' routine was to push the rock everyday, but the program was eternal damnation
What makes a routine a routine? We use the term “routine” typically in the same manner as mundane, with it referring to something that gets done everyday in the same way. Unless you live in chaos, you most likely have a morning routine that involves waking up, showering, shaving, eating something, etc. Or you’re super hipster and do intermittent fasting and don’t eat until lunch, whatever. The point is; this rarely changes, and it’s a set pattern that requires no thinking and it supposed to get you from point A to point B with minimal resistance.
So what is a program? A program’s purpose is to accomplish an end goal, not an immediate one. You decide what it is you want accomplished and then set up a program that will carry you through all the various steps to get you from the end to the beginning. Programs are multi-phased, understanding the intricacies of laying down a necessary foundation in earlier stages to be able to have success down the road. It takes all factors into consideration before execution and has a necessary plan in place to ensure success.
All part of a multi-phase program to eventually become the only photo I ever post in my blog
Thus, a program is set up of several routines. These routines are the parts of the program that carry us through the day to day, but they exist as a means to an end, not the end itself. In your program, you may find yourself with routines that have you performing 3x10, 4x8, 6x6, etc etc for sets and reps, but these aren’t the program. The program is how all these sets and reps fit in together. It’s how you start out with something a little higher in volume, before you transition the volume away and up the intensity, before you peak, before you start all over with a focus on conditioning and base building. That’s a program that was set up for 4 different routines.
This seems obvious to the experienced trainee, but to a novice the ideas are interchangible, and this is where confusion and starts. A trainee thinking that a routine and a program are one in the same is inclined to adopt a routine AS a program. They take on a 5x5 routine and say “THIS is my program”, and they follow it right off a cliff. Through rain, shine, sleet, snow and slush, through feast and famine, they keep pounding the same routine over and over again in the vain hope that it’s actually a program that will get them to their goals. Progression? Why, I’ll simply add more weight. Volume and intensity? What’s that? All I need are my 5 sets of 5 reps.
Yeah, I know that's 3x5, but the internet is just making a TON of these
Routines are comforting. It’s why we settle into routines in the first place; they remove thinking from the equation and allow us to go into autopilot. If you have pets or children, you know that one of the best things you can do for them to curb anxiety is to give them a stable routine, so that they have comfort and security in knowing that life is not chaotic. However, there is another term we use when referring to routines; ruts. We fall into ruts, we settle into ruts, we end up in ruts, and ultimately, once we are there, we stagnate and die. Recognizing we are in a rut is a step toward progress, as it’s establishing that there IS a problem, yet so many trainees are in such a rush to be in a rut that it seems to BE the goal. So many times the question is asked “what is your routine” and not “what is your program”.
We seek to program, and the defining factor IN a program is a model of progression. The key word in progression of course being PROGRESS. We seek to progress from where we were to where we want to be. And this is why a progression model in a routine needs to be something that is logical and sustainable. This is why making the progression model an afterthought is the calling card of a beginner on a quest to stagnate as hard and as fast as possible. “I’ll just add more weight everyday” isn’t a thought; it’s a meme. People will spend hours, if not days and weeks painstakingly laboring over if they’re going to do leg presses with their toes out or toes in as part of their assistance work, or debating on if they should do sets of 8 or sets of 9, or figuring out if they should do hammer curls AND reverse curls in their ROUTINE but won’t even invest 15 minutes figuring out how they’re going to actually progress.
I admit I DO have to admire the tenacity
Do whatever movements you want. Do however many sets you want. Do however many reps you want. Train 3 days, 4, 5, 6. Do twice a days. Use bodypart splits or full body. Train only the left side 1 day and only the right side the next. Do whatever routine you want; just make sure it fits in your program.