Sunday, July 28, 2013

Creating the perfect training routine

Aris DeMarco

In my blog entry here, I mentioned the importance of finding a 'best thing', routine-wise, at any given point in time in your training; a straight line between you and your goals that, however short, will help you progress efficiently. Program design is really all about logic and common sense--put a bit of thought into it and making gains will be much easier. 
Your thought process should be pretty simple:

1. What are my goals? 
Basically, what do you want to get done? (Numbers are good here--more reps, more weight, faster time, longer distance, bodyweight gained/lost, and so forth.) Also, how should you prioritize your goals, if you have more than one? Of course, if you have multiple goals, it's probably a good idea to make sure that they're synergistic to some extent. Losing ten pounds and adding 5 reps to your best set of strict pullups? Sure. Training to complete your first marathon while putting 50 pounds on your front squat max? Not such a good idea. 

2. When do I want to achieve them by?
This one comes down to common sense and balance, just like #1. Sure, everyone wants to add a plate to their max bench, but it ain't gonna happen overnight, and if you're due to travel in two months and won't have gym access for a while you have to set up your plans accordingly. Also, the faster you want to achieve one goal, the more you'll have to let other things go while working at it, which brings us to....

3. What am I willing to sacrifice?
This is an important one. Obviously, unless you're a professional athlete you probably don't want to progress in your training at the expense of a social life, work, general health, etc. But if you're running smolov (for example) you might have to get a few extra hours of sleep a night, spending less time doing other things; or spend more money on food, or whatever else you need to do in order to enhance your recovery. 

Another consideration here is your other lifts. Taking the example from #1, if you want to drastically increase your running ability, general fatigue in your hips/knees/ankles will probably hold you back on squats for a while. Whether you're willing to sacrifice max squatting ability for running endurance is up to you. The more varied your goals are, and the busier your day to day life is, the more your training might end up looking like this:

...but that's just the way things go. 

4. What is most effective for me?
This is big, of course, when you're considering efficient training. After a few years of experimenting with various programs, you'll learn what's most effective for you. This has to be taken into consideration with everything else, of course. Using the example from #2, a traditional 12 or 16-week powerlifting cycle might be most effective for your bench. However, if you only have 2 months before going on your trip, you obviously can't fit that in, so another plan is necessary. 

5. What do I enjoy the most?
For the vast majority of people, training is for either health, aesthetic purposes, or personal enjoyment (or some combination of those three). Yeah, everyone wants 'functional strength' too, but let's be real here: The most functional thing we could do in today's world is progressively adding weight to our dinner utensils, tv remote, and cell phone. 

Personal enjoyment is important because you'll be more likely to focus, you'll be more enthusiastic about training, and, of course, you'll like it. I read something recently about a few guys who competed in geared powerlifting--they hated training in bench shirts. The shirts were uncomfortable, a hassle to get on and off, and the poundages gained from putting the shirts on weren't very rewarding. The guys weren't getting paid to compete, or breaking any substantial records, so... if they didn't enjoy it, why were they doing it? Beats me. 

6. What is limiting me?
Finally, you have to consider limiting factors. Flexibility can be an issue if you want to perform certain lifts, for example. A rough work schedule, sleep issues, a physically demanding job, frequent travel, negativity from friends and family, old or new injuries, dietary restrictions, less-than ideal training conditions... the list of possibilities goes on, but all these must be taken into consideration. If your recovery is inadequate, reduce training volume, or frequency, or intensity. If you have a physical weakness, fix it, or work around it... or with it. Ensure that you have a base in place--don't try to work up to doing one-arm chinups when you can barely do 15 half-assed reps with two arms. Don't try to squat like an olympic lifter if you can't hit powerlifting depth without weight. And so forth.

In short--
-Define what you want to achieve
-Think carefully about your current situation and limitations
-Apply your past experiences and knowledge of yourself and what works for you
-Design a sensible, efficient, specific training routine to attain your goals
-Have at it.

Better get started, he's way ahead of you. I need an excuse to post this? No? Thought not.

It really is that simple. In the next 'program design' blog I'll give a real-world example or two of my own; after that I'll write about finding the balance between doing too much, and too little.

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