So you’ve joined a gym, bought a new pair of trainers and invested in a tub of protein powder. You’re hungry to get into the weights area and start seeing some ‘gainz’ but where do you start? Should I warm up with cardio? Should I smash out a few sets of heavy squats? Should I go crazy with bicep curls to get an awesome arm pump?
Designing a workout programme can be difficult and with all the information available to us just googling ‘workout programme’ will get you 1000s of results and a whole host of one-size-fits-all programmes. Not all of these programmes are bad, and some have helped people achieve fantastic results, but what works for one person won’t necessarily be the best option for another. In fact, following a programme designed to achieve a goal that doesn’t match your own, at a level of experience that isn’t correct, often leads to a dire lack of progress and will diminish the motivation you started the programme with.
But fear not, that’s where we are here to help. Designing a programme isn’t simple but it doesn’t have to be complicated if you follow these simple tips:
1. EXERCISE SELECTION
Which exercises should I do?
One of the most common questions we get asked is “which is the best exercise for...?”. The honest answer to this is that there isn’t one exercise that will achieve your ultimate goal. US Strength Coach Mike Boyle is fond of saying that the best programme is the one you are not doing. What he is referring to here is that a programme/exercise is good for a short time and then it must be changed (to avoid stagnating adaptation). Having said that, exercise selection is an important consideration, and using the following rules will help when choosing what’s right for you:
What is the goal?
If fat loss is the goal then the Olympic Lifts (Clean and Jerk and Snatch) may not be appropriate as they are very difficult to sustain (at a decent intensity level) for more than a few reps.
Select exercises that promote balance.
The term balance refers to balance between agonist and antagonist muscle groups. For example, training only the bench press will cause adaptations to occur that may lead to injury.
Don’t forget the small muscle groups
A lot of people concentrate on training only the muscles that they deem relevant/that look good and neglect to train the muscles that stabilise and fixate.
Beware of overlapping.
An example of exercises that overlap are the squat and deadlift. If both exercises are included in the same workout, the stress on the lower back may result in injury.
An exercise should be selected that will develop skill as well as promote mobility/flexibility in the required areas so more advanced exercises may be performed in the future.
How many exercises should I Include?
How long is the workout?
In general terms, workouts should last no longer than 1 hour. After this time quality will decrease and stress hormones will mean that any potential gains become negated. Be realistic when allocating time in the week, are you really going to hit the gym every day for 90mins?
What is the goal?
If your goal is an Ironman triathlon you will need to set aside a lot more training time than someone looking to lose a few kgs.
Use supersets to permit more work.
The use of supersets to pair agonist with antagonist exercises allows a greater amount of exercises (and therefore work) to be performed in a single session.
Is a sport involved?
Complex sports such as wrestling require the use of a greater number of exercises as many movement patterns are incorporated and must be trained.
What should I do first?
Placing exercises in the wrong order can completely negate all the correct decisions surrounding sets/reps/exercise choice etc. Sometimes you may want to pre-fatigue, sometimes you may want to ‘fire-up’ a group of muscles with one exercise before using another as the main exercise in your workout. Larger muscles and those with a high proportion of fast twitch fibres should be trained first as a greater degree of neural drive is required in order to fully recruit these muscles.
More neurologically difficult exercises (such as the olympic lifts) should be performed earlier in the workout when motivation levels are high and the nervous system is fresh. There is a large skill component in these types of exercise and it is almost impossible to develop skill when the fatigued. This principle filters down throughout the entire workout where snatches would be performed before squats and squats before biceps curl.
4. ADAPTING YOUR WORKOUT OVER TIME
How often should I change my exercises?
There seem to be many differing opinions on how often to change exercises in a programme with some feeling that this should be done almost every session while others feeling that the same sessions may be performed for long periods of time. As usual, the truth for the general population is somewhere in the middle.
We often see people changing exercises or stopping a programme to keep themselves entertained. Small changes such as moving from a back squat to a front squat will allow you to master your technique and progress through a programme without slowing down your results.
If a programme is working then stick with it, once you stop seeing results or progress it may be time to mix things up. This is where tracking and monitoring the goals that are important to you becomes vital.
How often should I train?
Exercise frequency basically comes down to how fast you can recover from your last session. There are so many factors that affect recovery, from sleep, nutrition, lifestyle and occupation that it is impossible to create one rule to fit all. Obviously, the more often you can train, the better the results will be. But, over training, especially for newbies, can lead to an increased risk of injury and be detrimental to your progress.
When training after an Injury you may require greater frequency. Those muscles that are either weak or are recovering from the injury require greater training frequency as the loads lifted are often very low and do not create a massive amount of total stress on the body. At the opposite end of the scale it should be noted that low exercise frequency can still help to maintain an athlete’s strength. Numerous athletes can attest to the fact that in-season, when they can devote less time to strength training, strength levels do not decrease.
We would love to give you the perfect programme, in fact we’d love to have it ourselves and use it every day, but the truth is no one programme will work for everyone and no one programme will work forever. Use these simple guidelines to help put together your next training programme and you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make.