5 Steps To Discovering Your Perfect Training Program
There is no one program that is perfect for everyone. There are just too many variables - body type, height, genetics, metabolism, recovery rate, mind set, individual biomechanics, joint + ligament health, joint size, injuries, and many more. The best program for you is the one that adheres to your individual needs, your goals, starting point, body type, personal preferences and so on. If you are tall with tight hip flexors, it might not be suitable for you to have say Back-Squats in your program, as you'll be better suited to a Leg Press or Squat variation like the Hack-Squat or Machine-Squat. What you can be sure of is that there is a perfect program out there for you, and it may look slightly different from others, but it will be designed to change occasionally in order for you to keep progressing. So what can you do to find out which methods will suit you right now?
1. Assess Your Current Status
This is hard, being honest with yourself is tricky - 'am I still a beginner?', 'am I advanced?' , 'I'm not that fat am I?', 'I am seriously advanced... right?'. Well, here's the thing - the more honest you are about your current status the more realistic and productive your program is going to be. It has nothing to do with how long you have been training or how lean you are, and everything to do with how far you've progressed. Some people can train for 3 years and get good improvements in muscle size and shape, then another 3 years with little to no further improvement, so after 6 years of training they might still be an intermediate - some other people can train for longer and still remain even a beginner. It doesn't matter where you are, as long as the acknowledgement is there you can start moving forward immediately. 'Do I go straight into complicated movements? Or do I master the basics before I try doing something more advanced?' Be honest, and the truth shall set you free.
2. What Training Exercises Will Be Appropriate For My Progression?
Now you have your current status, what now? Beginners (most are beginners), you must focus on large muscle groups first, i.e. Legs, Back, Chest, before prioritising smaller muscle groups like Shoulders, Arms and Calves. This will mean finding exercises that specifically target these muscles in compound exercises (movement of two or more joints) ; LEGS - Squat, Leg Presses, Hack Squat, Squat Machine, Sumo Squat and Lunge variations. BACK - Pull Up variations, Lat Pull Down, Seated Row, Cable Row. CHEST - Bench Press, Dumbbell Press, Seated Chest Presses. Intermediates can add more isolated/ complicated movements such as Leg Extensions, Leg Curls and Calf Raises - Straight legged Dead Lifts, Barbell Rowing, Pull Overs, Rear Deltoid Fly - Pectoral Fly variations and Dips for Chest. Directly training Shoulders and Arms will not create as much change as basic compound exercises when you are a beginner. Intermediate/Advanced athletes will benefit most from direct Shoulder and Arm training.
3. What Training Methods Will Be Appropriate For My Progression?
Beginners must take into account their limited recovery ability, Intensity level and joint strength when serious training starts. It will be easy to over train and risk injury. Start with light weights, low volume (6-9 sets total per large body part per week, spread over 2-3 exercises) and high repetitions (15-20), this will prepare your tendons/ligaments for heavier loads in the future and also condition your muscles to the movements/form. Beginners can train close to failure, but going beyond it is unnecessary for the first few weeks. Intermediates should use lower reps (8-12), can and should go to positive failure where capable, Forced Reps can be performed as well, but only on one or two exercises per session. The Central Nervous System can be fatigued even without going to failure, and too much fatigue can lead to over-training and stunted progression. Advanced Athletes should be increasing the Volume + Intensity (15-20 total sets per large body part, over 4-5 exercises) in order to surpass the hyper adaptive nature of muscle fibres and create new stimulus for growth. Forced Reps can be added on most exercises once Advanced.
4. What Training Approaches Will be Appropriate For My Progression?
Training Approach in this case refers to Set Structure, Rep Tempo (speed of reps) and Rest Periods. Beginner's abilities will vary, but often it will be the lungs straining too much before the muscles reach real complete failure/fatigue. For this reason the set structure will be very standard: set, rest, set, rest - as any further complexity will be too stressful. The Beginner will Rest for 45-90 seconds in-between each set. Intermediates may incorporate different Set Structures like drop sets, super sets, rest-pause, staggered sets (lower body) etc but always returning to the progression of the basic elements of the exercise as a priority. Rest Periods for the Intermediate can be between 30-45 seconds where possible. Advanced athletes can utilise complicated Set Structures, Shorter Rest Periods and Slower Rep Tempos to increase Intensity for further muscular adaptations on a semi-regular basis, but again always using the basic movements and set structures as a platform. See here for more info on set structures.
5. Re-assessing Status For Continued Progression
When Training properly a beginner will be classed as a beginner for anywhere from 6 months to a year. Intermediates for at least another 1-2 years after that (this is highly dependant on the individual), reaching Advanced Status only when ALL body parts are very highly developed and progression has slowed considerably. Either way it is recommended to re-asses your current status occasionally, at least once every 3-6 months to make sure you are constantly moving forward. The best program for you is the one that has you progressing consistently on all exercises, methods and approaches suited to your body and abilities. E.g. Taller Trainees better suited to Leg Machines rather than the Back Squat/Dead Lift. Beginners should not be using advanced set structures or complex movements like Pec Flies or Pull Overs etc. See the rough guide below to help with your self-assessment. Click here for more info on correct bodybuilding technique.
Beginner: Little to no muscular development OR limited fitness and/or experience with weights.
Intermediate: Some muscular development on most body parts, moderate fitness and experience.
Advanced: V. High muscular development on entire body, very experienced with weights + exercise.
NOTE: For realistic and best results the approaches described in this article should be used in conjunction with a proper Nutritional program. Click here for more Info on Nutrition.