You want strength, size and performance.
But with so many different programs and fitness solutions out there, how do you know what to look for? What’s the difference between a good and a bad training program? And how do you make sure your gym efforts are met with actual “real world” results?
I will cut right to the chase. Look for these properties in your fitness program:
- High intensity
- Focus on progression
- Limited frequency
- Adaptive design
If you’ve been keeping up with my stuff, you know that a high training frequency is your one-way ticket to Stagnation City (Stag City) and Frustrationville.
Why do you see ridiculously high volume and frequency training routines propagated everywhere? I believe there are multiple reasons for that, actually. One being that most pro athletes follow a high frequency training routine with great success. But, for obvious reasons, athletes aren’t the people you should be trying to emulate.
Call me crazy, but I also believe there are heavy industry interests pushing current fitness beliefs. A lot of people make a lot of money preying on desperate gym rats.
They Knew Better
I always got a great deal of inspiration looking at old school bodybuilders and strength athletes. The good old days, were the scene wasn’t polluted with cheap products and even cheaper people.
The old guard knew how to do things. Low to moderate frequency, high intensity was the name of the game back then. Undefeated bodybuilder and one of the strongest men to ever walk the planet John Grimek built his body training 3 days a week.
Why train 3 times when you can train 6 times? More training more gains, right? Wrong.
Very few individuals have the recuperative capacity to strength train more than 3-4 days a week.
Are you one of those few? Remember muscles grow while you rest, not during exercise! Give them enough time to complete the anabolic cycle.
How do you track your inter-workout recovery? Simple. If you’re able to improve from session to session, you’re giving your body enough time to adapt. If, however, you struggle to replicate former performances (or worse, you regress), it’s time to take a step back and dial down your training frequency.
Don’t measure your success by the times you made it to the gym. Nobody gives a flying Snickers bar about the number of days you work out. Look at your log book. How much did you improve in the last 4 weeks? Did you progress at all or are you just doing the same thing every time you work out? Look in the mirror. Any noticeable changes? If not, it’s time to rethink your training.
Maximizing Physical Adaptation
Maximizing muscle fiber recruitment, time under tension and metabolic stress produces the greatest stimulus for muscular growth (Gonzales et al, 2015).
Choose compound lifts and get stronger in different rep ranges. Multi-joint movements in the low to moderate rep range (4-8) will maximize muscle fiber recruitment and metabolic stress. Higher rep sets (8-12, 15+) will increase time under tension (muscular damage+ metabolic stress) and thus maximize anabolic signaling.
Strength progress is the nr. 1 indicator of muscle growth and adaptation.
Base your training on heavy compound (multi-joint) lifts and aim to get stronger in the low to moderate rep range. In order to optimize muscular hypertrophy (growth), make sure to add higher rep assistance lifts to your regimen.
How to design your customized training program
- 2-4 sessions per week
- 4-6 exercises per session
- 2-4 work sets per exercise
- Rep ranges: 4-6, 8-12, 15+
- 2-3 compound movements + 1-2 assistance movements per session
- Compound exercises: Push-ups (all variations), pull-ups (all variations), bench press, dips, squats (all variations), bent-over rows, overhead press
- Assistance exercises: Laterals, curls (all variations), triceps extensions
- Progression parameters: track your weights, repetitions, and rest times. Take notes on how you executed your exercises. How did you feel? Could you go harder or did you reach your limit in that 3rd set of weighted pull-ups?
- Intensity techniques (“Just Bleed”©): super-sets, rest-pause sets, drop-sets. Add these strategically to your sessions.
Forget all of the above. If you’re not training with intensity, you’re wasting time.
Incorporate the following intensity techniques to amplify the anabolic response to training and take your body to the next level.
Pair 2-3 exercises together and perform them back to back with no rest in between. That’s a superset. A fantastic tool to enhance conditioning and work capacity.
Rest-pause sets are my favorite intensity technique. Grab a weight and perform an exercise until you hit muscular failure. Pause, take a couple deep breaths (10-20 sec rest) and then go at it again. Do 2-4 rounds on your final set of a particular exercise. Works for me, will work for you.
Lastly, we have the infamous drop-set. Perform an exercise with a given weight until you hit muscle failure. Now lower the weight and repeat the exercise till failure again. Rinse and repeat. Go for 2-4 rounds on your final set.
Careful! Don’t use these techniques with every set and every exercise. Incorporate them strategically to avoid overtraining and stagnation. Stimulate, don’t annihilate your muscles.
Adaptive Program Design: Practicality/ variety/ “flow”
Many popular training programs break the workouts down into different segments or periods. One week you’ll focus on raw strength with a low to moderate rep range, the next week you’ll hit higher reps on your lifts to maximize hypertrophy and the week after that you lift lighter weights and go even higher in reps (15+). This is called periodization. While I do believe this strategy works better than sticking to a singular rep scheme, it tends to overcomplicate your training. And if you’re anything like me, you want to keep things as simple as possible.
“Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein
Make your routine work for you.
Your workouts should always be designed to make you stronger/ faster/ better. But you don’t need scientific programming to get the job done. Simply make sure you’re doing everything you can to progress. Sometimes that will involve switching up exercises and/ or rep ranges. Other times it will require an adjustment in training volume, intensity or workout structure. Listen to your body’s signals and give yourself the freedom to experiment.
This is all you will ever need to know about workout programming. If you can’t improve on this routine, there is nothing on the face of this planet that will get you results.
The time has come for you to stop looking for the latest celebrity fitness routine and start putting in the work!
Plain and simple: If you’re a drug-free athlete, this is your ultimate routine.
Thank you for reading
Gonzalez, A.M./ Hoffman, J.R./ Stout, J.R./ Fukuda, D.H./ Willough, D.S. “Intramuscular Anabolic Signaling and Endocrine Response Following Resistance Exercise: Implications for Muscle Hypertrophy”. Sports Medicine Dec 2015