Five Rules of Programming
Go to google. Type in “workout program” or something to that effect, maybe add in a few key words related to what you want to train for. Look how many pages come up. Scary isn’t it? There are literally millions of different workouts and programs floating around out there on the web or in magazines, and the possibilities for putting your own together are practically limitless. Sorting through the good and bad is pretty tricky and developing an eye for what works and what doesn’t is a skill in itself.
Theres a few basic rules you can stick to if you want to put together a program, or just use to check other programs against to get an idea if they’re gonna work.
Have a Goal – This is basic. If you don’t know what you’re trying to work towards you might as well close your eyes and pick a program at random like pin the tail on the donkey because it’s not gonna matter. You wont get anywhere if you dont know where you’re going. I usually have a basic goal (get stronger) and a more specific set of goals (e.g. increase my deadlift by 20kg by the end of the year).
Be Specific – Make sure the program actually helps you reach your goal. This is big one, especially if you haven’t put your own program together before. There’s so much stuff people think they should be doing that they lose track of the reason they’re training in the first place. If you want to get bigger, train for hypertrophy by doing lots of volume. If you want to get stronger, train for strength by dropping the volume and incorporate periodization and progressive overload. If you want to improve your squat, include range of motion work and accessory movements targetted to your weak points in the squat. If you want to get faster…well you get the idea. You can’t get better at everything at once. Pick something and run with it.
Be Realistic – Just because your hero or even somebody better than you at the gym trains a certain way that doesn’t necessarily you should or even can train that way. The training regimes of elite marathoners would kill the average runner. Probably literally. I love strength training, but if i tried to train EXACTLY like a worlds strongest man athlete you can bet my body would fall apart. Look at what you know you can realistically recover from in the gym and use that as a rule of thumb.
This sorta ties in with the last point too in that you can’t train everything all the time, so don’t try. Do you think it’s realistic to want to put on 10lbs muscle, drop 5lbs of fat, add 20lbs to your bench, and improve your clean and jerk technique all in 3 months? Separately these are all achievable goals for most people but together the likelyhood of doing them all gets smaller and smaller. If you’re going to pick multiple goals, pick goals that compliment eachother and don’t have too many.
Make it Interesting – This is often overlooked in the place of things that are supposedly “essential”. Do you really have to stick to three sets of ten for mass? Does cutting really require you do an hour of treadmill every day? Why do you have to train on those particular days? Are the exercises you’re doing the be all and end all? Really look at what you’re doing and don’t be afraid of doing something different so long as it adheres to the rules above.
This is where reading anything and everything out there on training comes in handy. The upside of all those programs out there is that there’s no shortage of variety and new ideas. I know people who’ve been training for 20-30 years and are still learning new things right along with me, a relative newbie in comparison. Quality sources are the key here.
Give it Time – This is the most important one and I’ve left it til last for that very reason. Here’s the real secret – so long as you meet the above requirements (and even then they’re not set in stone completely) it really doesn’t matter what program you’re doing. As much as we make fun of the terrible routines in magazines, if you worked hard enough you would even see results from the most poorly designed program. The most valuble thing I’ve ever learned is that hard work, consistency, and patience trump even the most genius program setups. You could have a personalized program written by Mark Rippetoe but if you go at it half-assed or quit half way through you may as well have used a shake weight and saved him some time. If you stick to any program for 2-6 months and work hard every session, you WILL get results. Its really that simple. It aint gonna happen overnight.
To finish off this article i’d just like to say that you should never take anything on the merit of the person writing it. Look at it and evaluate it for what it is, not who wrote it. Not every program is solid gold and no program will work for everybody. Everybody is different, has different goals, and has their own individual strengths and weaknesses – learn yours, and base your training around YOU.