While there are core principles that any training program should be wrapped around, training the compound lifts, training in various set-rep schemes, mobility, cardio, etc, how we configure those principles is totally up to us and what works for us. Everyone’s body type, endurance levels and even natural talents and abilities are different and therefore, these programs reflect these aforementioned talents and abilities while addressing weak points. We are all different. Do not hesitate to design and believe in the programs that work for YOU. When we share our routines, people are so caught up in dogma that they critique the routine strictly through the lens of dogmatic “expertise” without being helpful in any way. On the other hand, if we aren’t mindful, we let this negativity in and it can derail our efforts. We might even become an “expert” ourselves! Don’t get me wrong, we should encourage criticism for the purpose of helping one another in a productive, constructive way. Don’t let someone come at you and your preciously, orchestrated, astonishing routine that you stayed up three hours past your bedtime to design only to be destroyed based on their own preconceptions of how one should design their training splits, set-rep schemes and rest and recovery phases, cycles, meal times etc. In order to design our own custom program, these are the questions and underlying concepts we must consider:
- Does my program adhere to sufficient rest and recovery?
- Am I training the four major compound lifts?
- Cardio, Mobility, Stretching, Neural Efficiency?
- Am I eating sufficient calories to support my program?
- Do I enjoy my program?
Does my program adhere to sufficient rest and recovery?
It always cracks me up when I go on a forum, website, or just social media in general and see “experts” take one look at a split that someone took the time out to share and say “overtraining.” At this point in my career, I’m not sure if I subscribe to the notion of overtraining as much as I do under-eating and under-resting. Personally, I enjoy training with high volume with little rest days between. Due to my experience, genetics, lifestyle, and other factors, I am able to rest and recover and therefore reach my goals with the splits I design for myself. I know of people who train with higher volume than I, which I think is insane and their physiques and performance reflects the hard work they put in. There is no way someone can take one look at another person’s routine and know for certain that said person’s split promotes overtraining; that is unless they know every aspect of that person’s life. Proper rest and recovery is the part of the equation that needs to be accounted for in order for the whole equation to be balanced. So, when designing our routines, let’s think of the details of our day-to-day life through in order to get the most out of what we work on in the gym. Let’s think through what our day to day schedule looks like or even feels like. Let’s think about when we will be eating, resting, working, etc. All of these factors play a role in our overall growth in regards to how we design our split.
Underlying concept – Stimulus, recovery, adaptation: This concept is predicated on the fact that the strength and duration of an external stimulus produces a degree of fatigue which the body recovers from then super compensates for. Being aware of this concept allows for the athlete/coaches to design programs in such a way that they take full advantage of the body’s ability to be dealt a stimulus(training), recovering(sleep and nutrition), and super compensate(building muscle along with neural efficiency.)
The Five Major Compound lifts
Let’s face it, a program chock full of endless sets and reps of isolation movements is not the best use of one’s time. Not saying it isn’t possible to actually do this but why would we? Every program should be designed around or include at least four compound lifts: deadlifts, squats, bench press, overhead press and barbell row. There is no getting around this component of designing our splits. I am not saying that if these are absent from our routine that we will not reach our goals but we would do well to throw in a few of these compound lifts to allow for efficiency and better use of time.
Underlying concept: The major compound lifts, Squat, bench press, overhead press, barbell row and deadlift are the most efficient way to train. They work multiple joints, multiple muscle groups and allow for quality development of neural efficiency. These movements also burn the most calories at one time while improving structural integrity.
Cardio, Mobility, Stretching, Neural Efficiency
These four components are a must have in any and every program no matter what the programs goals are.
- Cardio – Cardio is important because it helps keep the heart healthy. Cardio is also a tool that aids in keeping body fat under control. Contrary to what many believe and say, cardio will NOT hurt our gains. It is a great way to actively recover on rest days. That sounds counterproductive but as I mentioned before, cardio aids in keeping the heart healthy and strong. A well-trained heart aids in cardiac efficiency as well as pumping vital nutrients to recovering muscles. We typically want to do cardio after lifting and/or on rest days but in moderation.
- Mobility – By far one of the most important components of any program when we are talking about the compounds lifts. Mobility in all of the compound lifts insures proper movements of the joints and muscles. Proper mobility insures that one or more joints and muscles are not overcompensating for their antagonists. This prevents injuries and undue stress on muscles and joints. For example, people who unintentionally “quarter squat,” may have tight hips, ankles, quads, etc. It is up to them, or the trainer, to coach them into a proper movement pattern this is done by-
- Stretching the muscles for maximum mobility. We want to incorporate proper stretching. Each muscle incorporated in each compound lift should be stretched to a point of tension for about sixty seconds each.
- Neural efficiency is the central nervous system (CNS) learning and memorizing a movement pattern for maximum results. We want to be able to execute a movement correctly 100% of the time. We want to be able to execute a squat, deadlift, barbell row, with the least amount of effort in regards to form in order for the muscles that are supposed to be engaged, get engaged with minimal risk of injury.
Underlying concept: The above four components all tie into one another in order for the program to be as effective as possible. When training for any goal we should take a well-rounded approach to ensure maximum efficiency, effectiveness and reduce injury as much as possible. We have to do what is right to insure the integrity of our programs as well as our bodies.
Do I enjoy my program?
We should also have fun with this. It isn’t all about the numbers. We shouldn’t be getting so caught up in numbers to the extent where we aren’t enjoying what we do. If we are serious about this lifestyle, we should at the very least enjoy what we are doing. No, I am not saying that we will always love it. It will be hard, it will be a grind and some days we will just flat out not want to train, but that is more reason for us to ensure enjoyment through programming that maximizes the potential for us to not only walk out of the gym feeling good, but feeling good while training. There are times where I would drag myself to the gym and put myself through a grueling training session only to enjoy every minute of it when initially I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Programming for not only growth but enjoyment is key to staying disciplined and motivated; unless we are doing this for competitive purpose, by all means, balls to the wall. But even then it should still be fun, win or lose.
Underlying concept – Outcome dependence: Studies show that when we start to think of what we love, such as our passions and hobbies, as work we tend to want to do it less. When training, we should think of it as play first. We should be training for the sake of training freeing ourselves of outcome dependence. Ironically, this is when we do our best.
Am I consuming enough calories to support my program?
This goes hand in hand with rest and recovery but nutrition is pivotal so I always feel the need to address this important aspect individually. When we train, we have to take into account what our goals are. In order to reach these goals we have to fuel and repair properly. None of the aforementioned is possible without the proper caloric intake. We want to calculate our total daily energy expenditure(TDEE), which is the total amount of energy in calories that we need to sustain ourselves throughout the day. After we have figured this number out, we want to either eat in a 200-500 calorie surplus or deficit; eating 200-500 calories above or below this number, or eat at maintenance which is going to be this exact number. I cannot emphasize enough how important nutrition, specifically calorie and macro calculation is to reach goals. Many people who are just starting out neglect nutrition in regards to reaching their fitness goals because it’s such an easy aspect to ignore or miss. What we consume directly has an impact on how our body performs and develops.
Underlying concept: Eat for your sport: Whether we are prepping for a show or a powerlifting competition we have to eat in such a way that supports our goals. If we are looking to put on mass, we eat in a surplus. If we are training for a meet, we eat to support our energy levels. If we are prepping for a bodybuilding show we eat in a deficit. The point is to eat in such a way that supports our goals.
Periodization is the strategic planning of training in order to reach the best possible peak performance in the most important competition of a season. This entails planning a program in macro and micro cycles, specificity, etc, to train for specific sports competitions. This component is more for athletes and competitive lifters but the average joe may incorporate it into their program as well. After all, it is a program. I will not say much about this aspect, as if we are athletes, we are more than likely going to have a real expert such as a coach design a full on program with more comprehensive measures to help us win!