It’s that time of year.
You’re over it.
That training program you found on Google is just not cutting it anymore.
The workout DVDs or videos you’ve been using are just repetitive at this point.
But you want that goal SO BADLY so you go through the motions and skip workouts here and there because you’re just not that into your workouts anymore.
As a coach, I work with all of my clients to avoid this feeling.
Program design is no joke. Exercises aren’t just thrown together, and random numbers aren’t just picked for your sets, reps, and weights.
There’s an art to it and an element of creativity. That’s because as a coach I’m working to balance the exercises that are best for your progress with one’s that put you at a low risk for injury AND keep you motivated and into your training.
A smart, well-designed training program can make or break your results, long-term health, motivation, and sustainability
In order to prevent stalls or drops in motivation for my clients there are 7 things I make sure to include in every program to see big time results. If you’re programming for yourself or just curious to better understand your training program, take a look to see what you can do to turn up the results.
How often do you just grab the closest weight?
How many times do you just pick the one that looks least intimidating?
Probably too often if we’re being honest.
I see TOO MANY people grab weights to grab weights in the gym without looking ore thinking about what’s going to be a challenge.
TOO MANY people are skipping one of the biggest and most important things in the gym – lifting heavy weights.
That doesn’t mean load up a bar with hundreds of pounds and destroy yourself with weights that are too heavy.
It means choosing a weight that is heavy for YOU. One that is going to be a challenge for YOU.
When you’re focused on lifting the heaviest weight possible in a well-thought out program, it can be a game changer for your results.
If you’re reading this, I hope you have moved past the logic that lifting weights makes you bulky and prevents weight loss because there is just too much research out there today to prove that’s a faulty logic.
Lifting weights builds muscle.
Building more muscle leads to a highly daily caloric burn because the simple existence of muscle burns more calories.
Resistance training leads to a higher caloric burn AFTER your training session is over.
That’s 2 ways you burn more calories through weightlifting, so it should be pretty clear to you that lifting weights leads to better results.
But that’s all dependent on muscle growth and development, and how does that happen?
3 Primary Mechanisms:
#1 Metabolic Stress
You know the burn you feel in your legs during lunges? You may hate the burn, but that’s your body’s metabolites accumulating in your muscle cells, which in turn causes the cells to swell, adjust hormones and other cellular processes to enlarge the cell and allow for the excess fluid and material. That’s muscle cell growth. So you should really love the burn of lunges….
#2 Muscle Damage or Stress
When you lift heavy weights, you’re sore the next day. That’s because your muscles have been damaged or stressed. Don’t fret because that’s a GOOD THING. When you apply an appropriate stress and feel sore the next day, your body has entered the recovery process. One of the coolest parts about the human body is it THRIVES off of the idea of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Your body might be sore, but your body is doing everything it can to repair that muscle damage to ensure it is without a doubt ready to withstand that stress the next time.
#3 Mechanical Tension
The most important for muscle growth, this can only be done by lifting heavy weights. Mechanical tension gets the ball rolling. It is the reason for metabolic stress and muscle damage. THIS is what sparks muscle growth. Again, because the body lives on the “Fool Me Once” Concept, your body continues to adapt to better withstand tension. Lifting weights puts tension on the muscles, and it’s that tension that stimulates the process of muscle growth.
Now, neither you or I are really able to track metabolic stress or muscle damage without a big needle being stuck into our leg before and after every workout.
So what do we track?
That’s the weight lifted and the big secret to why metric-based lifts are so important.
Metric-based lifts are the exercises in your program where you track the sets, reps, weight lifted, and degree of difficulty. This must be done SUPER consistently because the intent is to improve each time these exercises are performed.
Each of my clients (both in-person and online) have anywhere from 2 to 4 metric-based lifts. As a coach, my goal is to program one into each workout day, so we’re able to assess progress for each training day.
These lifts don’t change too much program to program. In fact, they’ll only change for 3 reasons:
- The exercise causes pain
- There is a technical piece of the lift that needs to be emphasized
- The exercise no longer suits or coincides with the end goal.
Without those, the exercise may vary slightly program to program, but it’s the accessory work or assistance exercises that change with the hope of enhancing the results of the metric-based lifts.
The goal of metric-based lifts is to continually increase the mechanical tension so that there is a steady increase in muscle growth.
Periodization perfectly piggy backs off of metric-based lifts because, if you’re following a well-thought out program, periodization is likely already a part of your program.
According to an exercise physiologist from the University of New Mexico, periodization is defined as a form of exercise or resistance training designed with specific training phases specifically implemented into the program. The differing phases are based upon increasing and decreasing volume and intensity.
In laymen’s terms, periodization is the organization of your program to ensure you don’t do the same workout every single time. It’s the variation in sets, reps, weights, and even exercises. It’s a pre-planned adjustment to programming so that the workload stays challenging but not overwhelming.
With all of my clients, we periodize their programs by manipulating sets, reps, and weights to appropriately progress or regress the volume across each training program.
Beyond that, I periodize programs across a bigger picture. As a coach, I implement multiple training phases with varying focuses. The different focuses include phases targeting strength, power, endurance, muscle building, and recovery. Regardless the focus, each phase is designed to bring a client closer to the desired outcome.
Use Effective Reps
How effective or beneficial are your reps in the gym?
Now, I’m not here to argue that something is better than nothing because it most definitely is; however, if you’re really looking to boost up your results, then it’s important to keep track of the quality of your reps.
The best way to do that is by tracking your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or Reps in Reserve (RIR).
We’ll save the long and detailed explanation of RPE and RIR for another blog because for now the short version will get us through.
Think of these two concepts as the amount of reps “left in the tank” at the end of a set.
It’s a fine line, but if you’re able to toe the line throughout training can add some MAJOR benefits.
If you stay too far on the safe side, your body is never really challenged and will only see some minor changes.
If you cross too far over, your body is at risk for fatigue and serious injury, which you know, can hold back results all together.
The goal is to take your sets just close enough to failure because as you get closer to failure, the more muscle fibers you recruit.
The more fibers recruited, the more fatigued.
The more fatigued, the greater requirement for repair.
The greater requirement for repair, the more stimulation of muscle growth.
So where’s the line?
Well, believe it or not, it’s only the last 4 to 6 reps before failure that recruit enough muscle fibers, generate enough fatigue, and stimulate muscle growth.
Those last 4 to 6 reps are your effective reps.
Let’s take a look at 2 examples.
One of my group classes took the casual approach to a class. From a coaches perspective, weights were not challenging enough and there were definitely not being enough performed. They claimed it was to save enough for the entire workout.
I shared with them the importance of effective reps and that the goal should be not necessarily to have 20 to 30 more minutes left in you at the end of a class, but to have 2 to 3 more reps left for each set.
We went about the class adjusting weights more frequently, accomplished more overall reps, and left the workout still feeling as if they could continue for another 20 minutes.
In one of my personal training sessions, a client continued to try and skip over her rest periods. She actually ran back and forth between exercises. She said she just needed to push through and being tired was only making her stronger.
We paused and talked about the importance of leaving some in the tank so that we’re able to finish the entire session.
Unfortunately, this was only her second session so there were still some personal expectations she felt she needed to meet and didn’t really heed my advice.
We called it quits with 25 minutes left in the session because she didn’t feel well and had stepped too far over that line. Truthfully, the session was probably over 10 to 15 minutes prior to that because reps were sloppy and no longer targeting the correct muscle groups.
Between the 2 examples who got the better workout?
The on-the-go society we live in would tell you Example #2 because she worked her tail off and reached that point of fatigue.
But it’s not smart to take every workout or set to failure. We need to manage fatigue properly to help you builds your strongest, healthiest body.
*This client has since been back for 2 sessions and thanks to some programmed rest periods and a better understanding of effective reps, we’ve made it through all 60 minutes 😉
Metric-Based or Well-Planned Cardio
If you stay up to date on ANY of my social media sites, emails, or blogs you know that running is not my thing.
There’s only one time I go for a run, and that’s when I get really frustrated or mad.
I mean like REALLY mad.
So mad that I’m convinced I’m not thinking straight, hence the running.
It happens MAYBE twice per year (That’s not to say I never get mad or frustrated because that happens plenty, but I’m just trying to help you see how mad I have to get to get to that point).
Running isn’t a part of my training program, so when I go for those Angry Runs, they aren’t well-planned or well thought out.
Let me tell you they hurt.
Every single part of my body hurts.
But my frustration is gone 😉
My goals are to drop a weight class, lift heavy weights, and look good doing it.
That cardio doesn’t offer any benefits to myself or my goals.
It’s the same for a lot of people hoping to cut weight.
You do some form of cardio as punishment for your body. You want it to hurt because in your head that means better results.
Do you know what?
If you intelligently programmed cardio into your training, you could make FASTER progress.
There are 2 general energy systems to your body:
Your anaerobic systems are the primary energy systems during resistance training, but that doesn’t mean the aerobic system just turns off.
Specifically targeting your aerobic system can actually improve the output of your anaerobic system. Even more, aerobic actually helps you your body recover from anaerobic work.
Therefore, better output and better recovery leads to faster progress in the gym.
Personally, I use aerobic work to help my body switch over to the parasympathetic (Rest & Digest AKA Recovery Mode) faster. The quicker I get into parasympathetic, the faster I recover and more resilient I become to a wider variety of stressors.
Here’s what my aerobic work as a powerlifter looks like:
- 3 10-minute walks daily
- 2 45-minute walks on either Full-Body Training Days or Rest Days
- 1 20-minute sled pull on either Full-Body Training Days or Rest Days
Unilateral (Single-Side) Work
We all love bilateral movements or those where we get to use both limbs together.
These are exercises like squats, deadlifts, push ups, or inverted rows.
Those exercises are great and some of my favorites, but (could you feel that one coming) doing only bilateral movements could actually be holding back your progress.
We’re human, so during bilateral exercises it’s nearly impossible to avoid one side working harder than the other.
Your dominant side will almost ALWAYS try to take over!
Because of that, doing only bilateral exercises can lead to imbalances, pain, and eventually injury.
The best way to prevent or fix that: Unilateral Work.
It allows each side to work on its own, isolates the muscles groups of each half, and can actually improve your bilateral work.
Unilateral work requires a focus on the movement pattern and core engagement. The balance or stability required of your body enhances your core and trunk stability as well as your mind-muscle connection.
If you’re feeling like your metric-based lifts have stalled out or that you can’t quite keep up with your periodized schedule, check your unilateral work. See where you can add or substitute some comparable exercises in for a while, then go back to your lifts to see a difference!
Plan Deloads and/or Recovery Weeks
It’s so interesting to me that as a coach, I work so hard to get people started on their health journey, yet when it comes time for a deload, recovery, refeed, or diet break people get so worked up about the idea of stopping.
We ALL get tired.
If you’re working your body hard enough, it will fatigue no matter how great you fuel your body.
Proper fatigue management is HUGE.
As a coach, I cannot stress their importance.
As a person working on her own goals, I get why deload weeks are hard to mentally handle.
You’ve been putting in the work and things are moving right along, so why should you change anything? Why should you drop the volume, intensity, and weights? Why should you eat more?
Taking a deload week could keep things moving right along or allow you take the volume, intensity, or weights up a notch when you get back.
It could be a game changer in your program.
A deload or recovery week is a training week (maybe two) designed to reduce training stress so that the body, mind, and motivation recovers. The intention is that this time of reduced stress allows you to come back stronger in the weeks that follow.
If you’ve been hitting the same program hard for some time now, you might want to consider taking a deload week.
If you’re following a well-thought training program, a deload or recovery week should be planned for every 4 to 8 weeks depending on your goals and progress.
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet because I could really dive into this one.
YOUR TRAINING NEEDS TO BE FUN.
I’m tired of this belief that training is meant to destroy you, be miserable, or the thought that you HAVE to workout.
Your training should be something that you look forward to and enjoy.
That is one of the most underrated aspects of program design and training.
You GET TO workout.
You GET TO move and challenge your body.
And do you know what’s really cool?
There are INIFINTE ways to do it.
Resistance training isn’t perfect.
Cardio isn’t perfect.
Yoga isn’t perfect.
Jazzercise isn’t perfect.
UNLESS IT’S WHAT YOU ENJOY DOING.
If you’re in a training program that excites you, you’re going to push yourself harder, focus more, and do whatever you can to make it stick.
Who cares if your girlfriend likes one style of workout and you like another?
Sure, it’s fun to go together, but at some point one of you wakes up and realizes how much you hate this and just quit.
The goal is for training to be a lifelong habit, and the only way for that to be done is to view working out as something you GET TO and WANT to do instead of something you HAVE to do.
About The Author
Jordan Davies is the Co-Owner of Complete Performance. Jordan has her B.S. in Exercise Science and Psychology, and her M.A. in Holistic Health Studies. She is a CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach, and a PN-1 and NCI-1 certified nutrition coach. She loves to study how the human body needs to be moved and nourished and making that fit to your unique lifestyle. Click Here Now to Apply for Coaching with Jordan.