How to create a kick-ass workout program to maximise your workouts!
Today, I want to talk about programming. Specifically, how to organise your workout routine to maximise your time at the gym. This article is going to lay out the foundation for what you need to consider when creating a workout program. This article is not going to cover fat loss or muscle gain workout specifically, but rather principles that you need to know to create an effective workout program.
A vast majority of general population gym-goers have no plan when they come to the gym. A common question I ask people is "what are you training today?". I get a mix of answers. Some have a vague idea based on a schedule they picked up from the internet or their "swole" friend. A small percentage will echo the words' starting strength' or '5x5', or some other popular training method. The vast majority, I would say 90%, would say "I don't know… I was thinking of this and that". These types of people are for who this article Is for.
To get results, no matter which program we decide to do requires consistency. You want to make working out a habit. As James Clear states in his book The Atomic Habit, it can take anywhere from 12 days to 122 days to build a habit. The more complex the habit, the longer it will take. Now, going to the gym, I would classify as somewhere in the middle. It's not a complex skill, but it is also not a walk in the park. So, for argument's sake, let's say someone needs to be going to the gym consistently for 60 days or two months, or eight weeks, however, you want to look at it. That is a long time for someone to attend the gym regularly. You do not need to be workout every day, but you need to go consistently a few days a week, for a few weeks (at least 8weeks) for working out to become a habit.
Quick side note
Before I continue with the variables, we consider when programming, the overarching principle is that it needs to be something you, or your clients, enjoy doing! Period. Adherence is the first thing a good coach will consider. For example, let's say someone is told the best way to lose weight is yoga (again, this is just an example; no need to crucify me). If that individual does not enjoy yoga, they aren't going to do it. No amount of research article will make them do it. So, number one consideration above all the things mentioned in this article is base your workout program to SOMETHING YOU CAN ADHERE TOO!
Another side note! The variables are not independent of each other. They all have to be considered when planning an effective training program. For example, if you go balls to the wall one day, it is not wise to do it consecutively. Training balls to the wall daily is a recipe for disaster. So, in that instance, you need to consider the weekly frequency and how hard each session is. Keep reading, and it will make more sense. Let's get to it!
In an ideal world, we want to be training 24/7, 365 days of the week. Life happens, so this becomes unrealistic. So, when you are deciding on a program, the very first question to ask is "realistically, how many days per week can I commit to the gym?". Knowing how frequent someone can train will determine what type of training routine someone will follow. I recommend 3-4 days being the sweet spot for weekly training frequency.
Duration of each session
Duration is probably the second question I get asked the most "how long should my sessions be?" Again, like with everything, my answer is always "it depends". It depends on 1) how much time you have and 2) what type of workout you are doing. Any program you perform at 100% is always going to get you results. There is no "best program" for any goals. Optimal, yes, but not best. Some exercises methods work better for certain goals over others, but all have their merits as long as you put 100% effort and not half-ass it, it will work. Workout sessions duration will range from as little as 30 minutes to 60 minutes being the mid-range and 1.5+ hours at the high end. Again, it depends on the type of training you are doing!
Cardio or Resistance training?
It depends! Again, this factor is going to be different for each person and their goal. I won't discuss the variables in this article (as that will take forever). I will, however, give my thoughts on weight training and cardio training and give my recommendations of why I do what I do.
My thoughts on Cardio- Let's get cardio out of the way first. The best time to perform this is the day's in-between weight training. Like I mentioned above, ideal frequency is 3-4 times a week of weight training. Let's take a 3-day weight training rotation. I will get clients to perform weight training on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and in-between days, Tuesday and Thursday, is either off days or cardio days. You want to have as much time between cardio and weight training sessions to maximise the effectiveness of both.
I know, however, that this is not the case for some people. If cardio is still something you want to do, do it at the end of your workout, after weight training. The reason is that when you lift weights, you need to be fresh and alert to do the exercises safely and effectively. Cardio, especially machines, are pretty easy to do. You peddle or move your arms. It doesn't require complex brainpower to perform. Doing CrossFit WODs is a different story, but if you prefer that type of high-intensity training, pick non-complex exercises and keep it short.
My thoughts on Resistance training- When I mention resistance training that will involve lifting weight (be it heavy or those pink dumbbells), bodyweight resistance and anything else you can think of that puts tension on the muscles. When designing a workout program, resistance training should be prioritised. Resistance training = more muscles. More muscles=higher resting metabolic rate. Also, having muscles will help shape your body. So, if all you are worried about is looking like a stick, don't do any resistance training and focus on cardio. However, if you want your body to have shape, perform resistance training.
Intensity vs volume
In lifting circles intensity is referred to as how heavy you are lifting. Volume refers to how many reps and sets you perform in a week for each muscle group. The rule is as follows; the higher the intensity (lifting heavy sh*t), the lower the overall volume you perform. For example, say Bobs heaviest squat is 100kg, anywhere from 75%+ will be considered high intensity for him. So, if Bob is squatting 80kg, he is lifting 80% of his maximum; thus, it is deemed to be high intensity. Bob will be performing five sets of five reps or twenty-five total reps. Which can be considered 'low volume'.
All you need to remember is the heavier you are lifting, the less total reps and sets you should perform for that muscle group.
In saying that, is it best to perform heavier weights, low reps, or lighter weights, more reps?
Again, the answer is it depends!
How to progress?
The best way to ensure you are making progress is by adding weight to the bar or progressing the exercise into a harder variation. Muscles adapt quickly, especially when you start training. From my experience, general population clients work from both extreme. They either spend a few weeks lifting the same amount of weights, or they increase the weights too quickly. Muscles adapt and strengthen quicker than tendons and ligaments, so you do not want to be increasing the resistance too fast as this can lead to injury.
I would recommend starting with a conservative weight. For example, say I can comfortably squat 100kg for 5 reps. I go away for a month-long holiday, no training just drinking and eating during the holiday. When I go back to the gym, I'm not going to start at 100kg. I would halve the weight, 50kg, and start from there, increasing the weight by 2.5kg to 5 kg each workout depending on how I feel. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is sure to happen, but after a few sessions, you'll find the pain will go away, and the weights start feeling lighter. The whole process, going from 50kg back to 100kg, can take anywhere from two to four weeks. It might seem like a regression, but realistically if you are not competing in anything, you don't need to rush. If you are new to resistance training, I would start with the lightest weight available to you and increase by the smallest increments.
Along with not getting injured a benefit of reducing the weight is that you can practice your form and technique again. When it comes to exercise, form and technique is the 100% most important factor (a topic for another article).
The rate in which one should progress is specific to the individual and their goals. I like to increase the weights every session. It will get to a point where you can't keep doing this without breaking your form and technique. When you can't add any more weight to the bar, I would start increasing the number of reps you are doing by 1 or 2. When you can't add any more reps, I would then rotate a different exercise which hits the same muscle group. This is just a simple way to progress. There are plenty of methods to progress. The point of this heading is that you should follow some sort of progressive overload method.
What training schedule should I follow?
Training schedule, or commonly known as training split, refers to what you train every session. A typical training split is something, we in the industry, refer to as "bro split": Monday- Chest, Tuesday- Back, Wednesday- Shoulders, Thursday- arms, Friday- legs. I won't lie, I started my training career with the bro split. There's nothing wrong with it. Any program done with 100% effort is still going to produce results. Is it the right one for you?
That all comes down to what you are trying to achieve!
With the bro split, you are hitting each muscle groups roughly once a week. In one year, that's 52 times. I prefer to target each muscle group multiple times per week, at least twice a week. If we do simple maths, twice a week training session targets each muscle groups 104 times, whereas once a week is only 52 times. For general population, not using any PEDs (Performance enhancing drugs), frequency; how often we hit each muscle group, is going to be a key determinant in how effective you build muscles. Sure, you can still get results training each muscle groups once a week, but you can get better results training each muscle group multiple times per week.
Summary and example
Okay, so we've gone through the main points you should consider when creating a training program. They are: Weekly frequency, duration of each session, type of training (cardio, yoga, resistance training etc.), intensity vs volume, how to progress, and the final one training schedule ties it all in.
I'll lay out a scenario below, and we will use the factors we discussed to help Bob come up with a training program. Let's say Bob is an executive who works 50+ hour weeks. He starts his workday at 9 am and usually does not finish till at least 7 pm. Bob has a family and has to drop his kids off twice a week, so he needs to be out of the house earlier. Bob can only train early mornings between (5:30 am-7 am).
For Bob, I will recommend a 3-day full-body routine with an optional 4th day during the weekend if he can. We will use a full-body split because it will maximise Bobs time working out. The reason I won't tell Bob to wake up 30 minutes earlier is that he needs his sleep for overall health. Okay, so we've got frequency.
Duration is 90 minutes.
Type of training will be full-body resistance training with optional cardio at the end if he has more time or if he finishes his routine earlier.
Intensity vs Volume
As we mentioned above, the intensity is how heavy the weight is, and volume is how many reps and sets performed for each muscle group. We will be alternating Bobs training intensity and volume during the week. Bob will be training Monday, Wednesday, Friday (as he has to drop his kids off on Tuesday and Thursdays).
Monday and Friday will be high intensity (heavyweights), low volume (fewer reps). Wednesday will be high volume (plenty of reps), small/moderate intensity (not as heavy). The reasons we are not doing all heavy days is to allow Bob to recovery from his workouts. Lifting heavy weights is very taxing on the human body. Having Bob perform lighter weights and more reps will enable him to give his body a break from heavy lifting, but also facilitate further muscular growth through more reps and sets being done.
If Bob has time to train over the weekend, it will be similar to Wednesday's workout- lighter weights, more reps and sets.
I will have Bob start each exercise off with light/moderate weight. Increase by the smallest increment every workout. I program anywhere from 4-6-week training block for my clients. Again, if you are dealing with general population clients, shit happens. You can't expect them to stick 100% with your programming. You need to be adaptable. That does not mean you don't have a plan but have a general outline but be prepared to alter something in a short notice.
Sample training schedule
The following is just an example.
B) Flat bench press-3x6
C) Stiff-leg deadlifts-3x8
D) Neutral grip chin-ups (assisted)-4x5
E1) Walking lunges-3x10 each side
E2) Incline DB fly-3x12
E3) DB bent-over row-3x10
A) Leg press- 4x10
B) Romanian deadlift barbell-4x8
C1) Incline DB press-4x8
C2) Pulldowns- 4x8
D1) DB bicep curl-3x15
D2) Triceps rope extension-3x15
E1) Leg extension- 3x15
E2) Leg curl-3x15
A) Conventional deadlift-3x5
B) Overhead barbell press-3x6
C) Barbell row-3x8
D) Close-grip machine row- 4x12
E) Assisted dips- 4x6
In conclusion, the above is a guide on what I think needs to be considered when creating a workout program. It will come down to the individual, their likes and dislikes, and the other factors discussed in this article. I leave you with this- it does not matter which program you end up doing as long as you put 100% effort into it, you will see results. Also, to get optimal results, you need to have your nutrition close to 100%.
Any further questions feel free to DM me or leave a comment, peace!