Before I begin, as a disclaimer, I would like to inform you that I speak from the platform of training for strength and performance.
What I mean by this, is that a lot of things that I will talk about in this article are in reference to training with weights.
There will be future articles that will discuss other ways of training.
Beginning an exercise program or starting to exercise itself can be very daunting.
Much like looking at basic diet and nutrition, when it comes to exercise programs there are a great deal of options available.
And if you do not know where to start it can become very overwhelming very quickly.
What I will explain in this article is what I feel are most important when it comes to picking a training program
First of all I would like it to be known that my focus in any program that I create is that of developing physical strength, increasing overall performance.
I feel that everyone can benefit from becoming stronger. And when I reference increasing performance this is not directly mean performance from an athlete’s point of view, but also in terms of everyday life.
As we become stronger we become more confident in ourselves, which leads to increased self-esteem and a more positive view of who we are.
Because of this self-confidence, we are able to do better in school or at work.
Because we are physically stronger we are more resistant to injury. This is why I feel it is important for us to continue lifting weights well into our old age.
Strength does not discriminate, absolutely anybody can become stronger and more physically fit.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what I feel are most important components of any good weight training program.
- Using compound movements over isolation movements
This is one that you will hear me harp on a lot.
When it comes to lifting weights most all exercises fit into one of two categories, compound exercises and isolation exercises.
A great example of a compound exercise is the squat. When squatting you are using all the muscles from the waist down as well as many muscles in your back. The joints involved in a squat are the ankles, knees, and hips.
Conversely, an isolation exercise is exactly as it sounds, and isolation.
It involves working one muscle through the movement of one joint.
Using the example of the hamstring curl, you noticed that the hamstring is the only muscle that is working and theknee is the only joint that is moving.
Now I tend to favor compound exercises over isolation exercises because you get more bang for your buck.
You get more work done when using compound exercises because you are not only able to move more weight, but you were also able to involve more muscles.
I think isolation exercises definitely have their place, but in my opinion this is well after all other work is done.
I feel most programs should consist of mostly compound movements, with isolation movements used in order to build up weaknesses or specific areas.
- Sets and Reps
Sets and Reps is an aspect of training that a lot of people are confused about.
This is the part of the program that determines what you are training for, and if you are going to get the results from your program that you are wanting.
Meaning, that if you are wanting to build muscle, but are training in a rep range that is geared towards endurance training, you will never be able to build the muscle you are hoping to.
I see this all the time in specialty programs; a program for women to build up their butt, but it has them doing sets of 20 or more of each exercise. Sure you will be exhausted and you’ll have the muscle “burning”, but the hypertrophy response you are hoping for will not come because you are actually training the muscles to work for an extended amount of time, instead of forcing them to grow.
Sets and Reps can be broken down into basically three categories.
Training for strength – 1-5 reps per set
Training for hypertrophy – 6-12/15 reps per set
And training for endurance – 20+ reps per set
When I create programs for either myself or for someone else, I often try to include all three categories into the program because I think all three are important.
Obviously, I feel strength development is important as noted above, but you can only become so strong before your muscles have to grow in size to accommodate and build new levels of strength. Plus as we build new muscle tissue, our resting metabolic rate increases, that is the number of calories we burn just sitting on the couch.
This is why I also include a good portion of hypertrophy training, either within each workout, or its own separate phase.
Endurance work, I often include as conditioning work. Something to get the heart rate up, and work towards being able to do a great deal of work over a longer period of time. I view endurance reps simply as training to do a lot of work without tiring.
You definitely do not have to have all three represented in your program. For example, if I were to have someone who did not want to gain any size or weight, but simply wanted to be stronger, their program would consist of sets and reps that align mostly in the strength category or 1-5 reps.
At this point you may be wondering “so I know how many reps to do, but how many sets?” In simplest terms:
More reps = fewer sets
Training for strength – 5-8 sets
Training for hypertrophy – 3-5 sets
Training for endurance – 2-3 sets
How often your train is going to depend largely on a variety of things from the amount of time each week you have to train to what your specific goals are.
Most people see best results when they train 3-4 days a week.
If you can only train 2 or 3 days a week, your best option is to use full body workouts. This simply means that for each workout you will be training both your upper and lower body within the same workout.
If done correctly, a split routine where you train upper and lower body on separate days can be used if you can only train 2 or 3 times a week, but this has to be programmed with much more diligence in order to see results.
For me personally I like either 3 or 4 days a week, utilizing a split routine. This is what works best for me, however, I do go through phases in which I will switch this up to full body workouts.
I prefer to use a split routine because it allows me to get more work done in each workout for each body part. This works best when training 4 days a week.