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Everyone Wants A Program (but how do you know what to chose)

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

A program is your game plan. It takes the guess work out of what needs to get done in the time you have to train. The goal should be do as little as possible and get the most bang for your buck. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can write a program. That can but doesn't mean that person is accounting for someone's history including medical and training experience, targeted weaknesses, ability to recover, and skill level along with other variables. This is not to discourage you from trying any of the plethora of free resources for training templates. In fact, you will never know what works for you until you try something. That being said, don't start something and not see it through. Give yourself the appropriate time on a program to see what kind of honest results you can get and what you need to do to meet your needs. When creating or assessing a program, consider the length of time it is designed for, the changes in volume, rest periods, and what you've been doing the past 4-6 weeks. You want to see periodization in your training but here is some of my take on how you may want to approach finding a program.

Novice I

People will make tremendous growth in their first months of working out. Studies indicate that in the initial weeks of training development of neuromuscular patterns contribute to improvements in performance. If you were to pick up a tennis racket today and practiced every day for a week, the amount of successful shots you keep on the court would likely go up. Were you gifted a new set of hands you never had before? No. Technique and purposeful practice are the difference makers. Any new skill must be learned and growth comes quicker early on. For someone looking to lose weight, they may experience early success as they introduce new habits but then plateau until they take it up another step. Don't be mistaken, weight fluctuations are normal but should trend in the direction you want over the course of weeks and months. You can't do everything at once. Introduce 1 or 2 new small habits each week. Over the course of a month you'll have more than just a scale to show for change along with the process of establishing a healthy lifestyle. Create workouts that are interesting and complete them on a consistent basis. It is helpful if you find a like-minded person especially if the gym has been an intimidating idea for you or just don't know much about how to structure a workout.

Type of programming needed- Basic but consistent. Develop positive habits.

Novice II

This includes people who begin to dabble in different programs. They try some things that work and they make significant progress, or they just don't have fun, get exhausted and dump it for the next thing. I'm sure you've seen it over and over again and one week these people are doing one thing and the next week they talk like that was ancient news. This is okay as you get experience but the more experience you get, the more that success will be disguised as hard work or your programming search will need some retooling to match up with your goals. Consider a soccer player. That athlete may be looking to build up leg strength in order to improve your performance on the field. To them I say stick to exercises mainly of the lumbo-pelvic hip complex, or basically the muscles of your feet, abs and everything in between. Not all exercises will require a machine so don't get distracted by all of the tools at your disposal. You don't need to hit everything at once. Consider completing the same exact workout for 2 weeks in a row or having an upper/lower body split and find what you liked and what worked when you evaluate your training.

Type of programming needed- Exploratory but consistent.

Intermediate Lifters

By now this person has figured out that training is fun and they want to continue to get better. Get specific about your training. Continue to practice basics but now take it up a notch. Look at your calendar in seasons. If you are an athlete, break it down to off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season. Recreationally you may want to be outside in the nicer weather months and be in the gym grinding during the colder ones. It's in this time that people will find you can't go full boar year round. If you try, brace yourself for plateaus and inevitably injury or burnout. Find or make a program that can contribute to your specific goals and break them down to when you can build and when you need a deload. Deloading will allow your mind and body to recover so that you can get back on the grind with rejuvenated effort. Even a few days of a reset can be enough if training hasn't been particularly rigorous. For some people this means their exercise time becomes a walk or yard work instead of greeting the iron. Overtraining is an issue that can compromise more than just your gym gains. It will also impact your hormones, mood, sleep, and immune system. These set backs will cost you time to recover and then return to pre-exhausted levels of performance. Push yourself but in the idea of giving 110% let me ask, what is your level of effort to recovery, nutrition, hydration, sleep, and all of the other things away from the gym that matter. Don't be a hardo in the gym and have nothing to show for it when you lack the discipline to build habits that will be valuable to you the next day in training.

Type of programming needed- Specific and periodized.

Advanced Lifters

Now you are competing. This level means you are taking your training very seriously and it has become your way of life for a few years. Again, this comes back to motivation. You can be motivated up the ying yang but have you been consistent? You've found methods that work, probably run a few programs over and over with results but not the growth you initially had. Now is a critical time for load management and periodization. In order to stress the body and generate improvement, volume scaling needs to be monitored, incremented, and proactively handled for deload periods to avoid overuse, injury, and fatigue. The goal is to continue the march to improve performance but the value of your experience truly shows. If you've handled 1 day a week of squats but that is an area of weakness this is a good time to consider if you want to add in a second day or explosive plyometric movements more frequently. Both days don't have to require heavy percentages or reps to failure but tonnage and timing to competition are critical factors in your training regiment. If an athlete enters training during pre-season like they are in-season, there will be no gas left in the tank when it gets down to the nitty gritty grind of the playoffs. Do the work necessary to prepare for high level training before going beast mode. Doing what everybody else's doing doesn't mean that their program suits your needs. This person knows enough about what makes training fun and necessary for them to continue having success. Having a program takes the guess work out of training and makes intentional use of your time by structuring training into seasons or phases. If you have been here for a while, share your experiences with someone and pass along the ideas and systems you've used to get to where you are.

Level of programming needed- Specific and periodized

Take Away This

With any program the most important variable is your work ethic. This looks different for everyone and we work within our abilities while striving for growth. Recognize your weaknesses and address them. Don't waste time when you see a program that you can't commit to. Some take a great deal of time that may not seem feasible because let's face it, we all have a life to get to. Whether your goals are to correct movement patterns, rehab an injury, lose weight, or improve strength the amount of time and intent dedicated to getting what you want will reveal the difference in a program. If at first you don't succeed, try doing what your coach told you to do the first time.

Improve your training. Improve your life.

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