Developing a training program is something we pride ourselves in. Not because it’s so technical or advanced, but because it’s a canvas. It’s always our hope that when a client receives a program that they work through it with care. They give us 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 baseline or variation of a past program based on their goals and current situation.
It’s understandable that not everyone wants to go into the gym with a specific program and do specific exercises. If general health and wellness is your goal, then that’s totally fine! But, if you desire to make serious progress with your strength or with your physique, you to have some sort of plan.
Exercise vs Training Program
Many people haven’t participated in an actual training program. The majority people just view “training” as “exercise”.
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 between exercise and a training program is that “exercise” doesn’t require periodization or long term planning. A training programming has a purpose and it should be measurable.
It can’t be a mix of random exercises each week. That would just be exercise.
Do you see the difference?
The design of the exercises, their order and their sets/reps make up the program. 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.
Many of the athletes we work with have some sort of physique based goal…. they want to change what their body looks like by developing lean muscle and/or losing body fat. There are still some great benefits to any type of exercise like improving overall health, improvement in cholesterol, lipids and other blood panels, endurance and bone density, but the overarching goal of a structured training program is to improve lean muscle mass.
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 we 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 will likely make you sore, but not only does soreness not correlate to any progress, but it also isn’t necessarily “good thing”. Soreness typically 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. Not to just move more weight or do another rep, but move it more effectively.
We never write programs that don’t push the client 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 envelope in terms of volume by utilizing various forms of intensity like drop sets, rest pause sets or AMRAP sets.
Words of Warning
If you’re ever following a training program, 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 a 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 35lb DBs next. 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 you should do in order to truly work on every listed set.
You might feel like you can do more at the end of the workout because you really only performed 1-2 work sets for each move.
Could this be the case?
This most often happens on overhead 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.
Every client using one of our programs should feel like they’re working hard and effectively! We don’t want you to dread going to the gym, but we want to teach you the reasons why this 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. We always ask for feedback when it’s time for a program update and we always encourage clients to share videos of their training sessions so we can critique and review.
If you want to get better. You will take the steps to do so.